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Interactive website uses traditional Ojibwe knowledge as a lens into climate change


Even without threats like hurricanes or rising ocean levels, climate change is already impacting places like northern Wisconsin.

An interactive website uses indigenous knowledge about the environment to help visitors understand impacts in Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands.

The Minisan website identifies 12 different ecosystems within Apostle Islands and includes audio of the Ojibwe-language names for the islands on which they are found.

Through words, photos, and videos, the impacts of climate change are explained from a traditional ecological knowledge perspective.

“I hope [visitors] take away the richness and goodness and the knowledge that traditional ecological knowledge can bring to an issue such as climate change,” said Cathy Techtmann, the environmental outreach state specialist for UW-Extension. Techtmann helped develop the website.

Visitors can learn about the ways climate will affect four different areas in each ecosystem.

“We use the four orders of creation. Physical world, which is the rocks, the air, the water. The plant world, which is dependent on the physical world. The animal world, which is dependent on the plant and physical world. And finally, the human world. We’re the most to be pitied because we depend on all of the ones before us,” Techtmann said.

The website was an outgrowth of the need for education about the intersection between climate change and traditional ecological knowledge.

It encourages visitors to challenge themselves in thinking about our environment.

“Oftentimes, curriculum will integrate indigenous knowledge as an alternative way of looking [at things] or to bring a different perspective. This website flips the whole thing on its head,” Techtmann said. “It starts with Ojibwe knowledge and integrates scientific knowledge to provide a different perspective.”

Sometimes, traditional knowledge conflicts with mainstream scientific knowledge. The website encourages visitors to think critically about those situations, like when considering the Erodible Maritime Bluffs ecosystem.

“Whose science do we use when traditional ecological knowledge says, this is an extremely vulnerable ecosystem because our ancestors are buried here, we’ve camped here, this is where we still harvest, and the academic-scientific people are say, oh no, this isn’t a very vulnerable ecosystem because it’s sloughing off into the water all of the time and all of the plants there are used to being washed away?” asked Techtmann.

Leaders from multiple Ojibwe tribes in the Lake Superior area contributed to the creation of the website. Ojibwe-language names for places, plants, and animals are sprinkled throughout the website.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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