Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings is a former Bad River Tribal Council Member and serves on Wisconsin Governor Tony Ever’s Task Force on Climate Change.
For Anishinaabeg, Giiwedin is often used to describe the north; the direction of wind that brings many elements of healing. Sometimes the north is associated with the spirits of winter and the blanketing snow, which bring a time of rest and healing for everything in creation. Healing and well-being intersect, and the wintertime in the northwoods is proof of Anishinaabe resiliency. For hundreds of years, Tribal communities have thrived in the wintertime by fishing through the ice, trapping, hunting, and storytelling. As original people of these lands we are taught to embrace each season, and respect the bountiful gifts offered throughout the year.
When you are rooted in your community, you have an inherent responsibility to take care of your homelands and the people that reside there. Bad River, our community along the shores of Gichi Gami (Lake Superior) has always been that place for me. I knew early on that I wanted to work for my people and help where I could. I was drawn to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) after I finished my undergrad at UW Madison. GLIFWC and other intertribal environmental agencies around the country continue to lead in environmental protection of our natural resources. I was elected to our Tribal Council at the age of 24 and served two consecutive terms. I had the honor of serving as a Tribal representative for RTOC – Regional Tribal Operations Committee for Region 5 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I was also appointed to the Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. Many of these responsibilities intersect and have allowed our tribal communities to voice our concerns and petition for better environmental protection measures and policies while working collaboratively with other governmental agencies.
Our community has a longstanding relationship with everything in creation. Tribal subsistence harvesting has allowed our community to both survive and thrive for many generations. Our harvesters and individuals that spend a lot of time on the landscape recognize abnormalities and irregular shifts in climate. From large fluctuations in temperature and snow cover affecting sugarbush season, to the decrease in native fish populations, tribal communities are experiencing climate change impacts now. Manoomin (wild rice) is invaluable to many Ojibwe communities, and the plant itself requires specific conditions to grow and reproduce. High water levels and extreme weather events are just a few of the many climate change impacts affecting manoomin that are being monitored and studied.
As flooding events have become more prevalent in the region, Bad River and other local tribal communities have worked to push for flood mitigation policies, and emergency response protocols to better prepare for future events. GLIFWC has worked with tribes to develop vulnerability indexes, which investigates the specific vulnerabilities of species of cultural and subsistence importance. Additionally, many tribes have developed adaptation plans and implemented climate change mitigation strategies that have significantly reduced their carbon footprint through renewable energy projects. Bad River recently broke ground on a multi-million dollar community solar project, which will drastically reduce non-renewable energy consumption and bring our community closer to energy independence and sovereignty.