Source: A College of Menominee Nation production for NASA's Where Words Touch the Earth
This video segment adapted from the College of Menominee Nation explores some of the effects of changing seasonal cycles on the Menominee Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located in northeast Wisconsin. Tribal member Ben Grignon describes the impact on maple sugar–making activities. Menominee educator Dr. Verna Flower shares her observations of flowering plants blossoming earlier. And tribal member Melissa Cook, concerned with the pace of change, urges people take responsibility and work together to preserve the world.
The indigenous peoples of the world are strongly tied to cycles that occur throughout nature. Understanding these cycles is essential to their health, culture, and identity. Traditionally, subsistence economies rely on fish, wildlife, and plants that are available at different times of the year. The Menominee have learned through ancestral teachings what it means to be in tune with the seasons. This knowledge has been passed down through generations in oral tradition and celebrated in songs, dances, and ceremonies. The Menominee hunt in late fall when deer are fattened and fish during the spring spawn. They harvest garden crops, wild nuts, and berries when they are ripe and bountiful. The months of the year are often named after activities traditionally performed during them.
The changing color of the landscape as leaves begin to turn or the emergence of animals from hibernation are recognized signals of seasonality in the natural world. In recent years, the Menominee are seeing a shift in the timing of these signals on their land. Plants such as the bridle flower bush, which is used in religious ceremonies, are blossoming up to a full month earlier than they did just decades ago. These and other seasonality signals suggest that the seasons themselves are shifting, and this impacts the timing of traditional activities. For example, sugaring, the harvesting of sap from maple trees for making maple syrup, used to occur in the month of April. Because the sap starts flowing from the roots to the trunks of trees earlier and earlier in the year, sugaring activities are now completed before the end of March.
Native people's observations that temperature changes are driving a shift in the seasons are corroborated by scientific studies. The upper Great Lakes region, where the Menominee Reservation is located, historically has had cold, snowy winters and warm summer days with cool summer nights. Based on climate data for the region, mean temperatures have gone up nearly 4°F (2.2ºC) degrees over the last century. The first freeze is occurring later in the fall, and the last freeze earlier in the spring. This means shorter winters and longer growing seasons.
A longer growing season has benefits, especially for agricultural activities. It might even be expected to improve forest growth, which is important to the Menominee economy. But with it comes an increased potential for prolonged heat waves, floods, and droughts. Moreover, there is an increased threat of pests, diseases, and invasive species moving in from warmer regions. This would displace certain species of native plants and animals. While some native communities may be able to continue their traditional way of life, others may be forced to abandon certain activities or leave their lands entirely; these situations are already occurring in parts of the world where the effects of climate change are greatly accelerated.
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