Discovering climate change through a Native American perspective

Joe Rose, Sr., Northland College professor and Bad River elder shares traditional teaching at the G'WOW exhibit dedication. Photo by CO Rasmussen, GLIFWC

New initiative shows potential impacts on environment and people of the Great Lakes region

Contact: Cathy Techtmann, UW-Extension–Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, 715-685-2671,

They call it manoomin—“the food that grows on water.” For the Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region, manoomin, or wild rice, is more than just a source of food. It plays an important role in spiritual and community traditions, and can provide income.

What would happen if this mainstay of the Ojibwe culture, along with other resources such as birch bark, fish, or maple sap became scarce or no longer existed?

That question is the subject of a new exhibit that examines the possible cultural and natural resource impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes region. The exhibit, titled “Changing Climate….Changing Culture,” recently opened at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center (NGLVC) near Ashland.

The exhibit is the first part of the Gikinoo’wizhiwe Onji Waaban (Guiding for Tomorrow) Culture and Climate Change (“G’WOW” for short) initiative. G’WOW is designed to increase knowledge of how climate change is affecting Lake Superior’s environment, communities, and cultures. The project’s organizers also want people to consider what they can do to help reduce or adapt to the impacts of a changing Lake Superior climate.

G’WOW was developed through a new partnership between the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center UW-Extension office, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), the U.S. Forest Service and other partner agencies including the National Park Service and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Funding partners include the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

Cathy Techtmann, environmental outreach specialist with UW-Extension’s Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center office, explains that the G’WOW initiative is taking a unique approach by combining scientific climate change research with real-world evidence of how climate change is affecting traditional Ojibwe culture. “We’re bringing Native perspectives and involvement to help people of all cultures better understand how climate change may affect them and what they can do to address it,” she says.

Interactive Ojibwe language and cultural components developed by the GLIFWC are infused throughout the project. The exhibit will be viewed by more than 150,000 visitors and students who come to the NGLVC each year. An Ojibwe birch bark canoe and traditional ricing tools provides the exhibit’s focal point.

The 200-sq.-ft. exhibit is just the first part of the G’WOW project. Other elements being developed include a service learning curriculum to let students experience how climate change is affecting traditional Ojibwe activities; investigate the science behind these changes; and take action to address climate change within their own cultures and communities.

The final piece will develop teacher training to create a network of climate change community educators who can help spread the word about the project’s educational model. The first teacher training sessions will be piloted during the Great Lakes Earth Partnership for Schools teacher institute at the NGLVC next summer.

Recently, the NGLVC hosted a celebration to dedicate the G’WOW exhibit that opened with a prayer and pipe ceremony. Talks by tribal leaders and agency representatives were followed by an Ojibwe feast that included drumming, and dancing.

Mic Isham, GLIFWC Board of Commissioners chairman and Lac Courte Oreilles tribal council member, noted that the new exhibit was an important educational tool.

“This exhibit will serve as a catalyst for conversation. People will not only view it but will leave here thinking about what it all means,” noted Forest Supervisor Paul Strong, Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest.

A website is being developed that will offer more information about the G’WOW initiative and the impact of climate change on traditional Ojibwe activities. For now, people can find more on the project’s Facebook page at


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