PAGE 5 MAZINA’IGAN FALL 2017 • WIIGWAASI-MITIG • Wiigwaasi-mitig: The uncertain future of a resource A traditional legend about the wiigwaasi-mitig (paper birch tree) told by the late Niso-asin (Sean Fahrlander) emphasizes how useful and important wiigwaasi- mitig has been, and is still, to the Anishinaabe: A long time ago, an old hunter and gatherer asked the birch tree to watch over camp while he went to check his traps. The birch tree agreed and promised to stay awake to watch the camp. Eventually the birch tree began to grow tired and fell asleep. As the birch tree slept, the trickster coyote came and stole most of the food and left a mess behind. The old hunter and gatherer came back and let the birch tree know how upset he was. The birch tree apologized and promised to do a better job next time in staying awake and taking care of camp. A few days later the hunter and gatherer again went out to check his traps. He then came back to find the same thing had happened. He became furious and let out his anger by using pine branches to hit the birch tree. The old man told the birch tree that he would always have the black marks from the pine branches as a reminder of the broken promises. As a result, wiigwaasi-mitig keeps his promise of continuing to help the Anishinaabe people by serving as a source to make things such as canoes, containers, food, medicine, nourishment, and more. Climate change has the potential to impact this highly utilized and valued resource. What makes it so vulnerable? Several known insects, diseases, and other factors affect the tree (including the birch borer mentioned by TEK interviewees). Other disturbances include the birch leafminer, the forest tent caterpillar, the gypsy moth, and canker rot. Wiigwaasi-mitig, a northern species suited to cool climates, is already near the southern end of its range in the Ceded Territories. It is susceptible to drought, particularly during its first growing year, and hotter and drier summers can stress wiigwaasi-mitigoog. It is shade-intolerant and often outcompeted by other shade- tolerant species. Wiigwaasi-mitig can also be susceptible to fire topkill because of its flammable bark and, despite fire suppression, we may see more fires in the Ceded Territories as climate change progresses. On top of all of these threats, the overharvest of birch poles is putting an additional stressor on wiigwaasi-mitig. (For more information see the Winter 2016-17 Mazina’igan). Through ongoing Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) interviews, GLIFWC Climate Change Program staff are learning how alarming these potential impactstowiigwaasi-mitigoog(paperbirchtrees)aretoharvestersandeldersfrom GLIFWC member tribes. To the Anishinaabe, loss of wiigwaasi-mitigoog would have detrimental economic, social, and most importantly, cultural impacts. During interviews, tribal members expressed fears of not being able to teach the younger generations how to make traditional crafts, how to carry on the cultural teachings, or how to utilize its medicine. More strongly expressed was the fear that stories of the wiigwaasi- mitig will have to be told solely in the past tense, describing a valuable gift we no longer have. NearlyallTEKintervieweesexpressconcernaboutadeclineinthewiigwaasi- mitig. The days of being able to travel a short distance to find birch trees large enough to make canoes are becoming mostly memories; one now has to search great distances to find suitable trees.Also seeing a major decrease are narrow birch poles, most often due to overharvesting for purely commercial purposes. Having fewer birch poles is a major concern for those who harvest them sustainably for traditional and ceremonial purposes. When TEK interviewees were asked how long they had been noticing the birch pole decline, the average response was the last five to 10 years. Some examples of more specific observations mentioned about wiigwaasi- mitig are: • Wiigwaasi-mitigoogaremoresensitivetochange.Thebirchborerisimpact- ing it, and anything big is dead. —Interview with harvesters in St Croix • Because temperatures get hotter earlier in the day, it’s necessary to gather wiigwaas (birch bark) in the morning rather than waiting until the afternoon as one had to in the past. —Interview with tribal elder in Mole Lake • Wiigwaasi-mitigoog are sickly and dying. There has been a significant decrease noticed since the 1940s and 1950s. —Interview with harvesters in Lac Vieux Desert Western science supports these reports by tribal members. Studies and vul- nerability assessments by the United States Forest Service (USFS) found that the wiigwaasi-mitig is moderately to highly vulnerable to climate change. By the end of the century, wiigwaasi-mitigoog are expected to have a large decrease in suit- able habitat and more than a 50-percent decrease in biomass (total weight of all wiigwaasi-mitigoog) in northern Wisconsin and western Upper Michigan. Arecent study by GLIFWC and the Forest Service (“Paper Birch [Wiigwaas] of the Lake States, 1980-2010”) showed wiigwaasi-mitigoog already are suffering and additionally found the number of wiigwaasi-mitigoog declined by 49% from 1980-2010 in the forest land in the Ceded Territories. However, fire does help it regenerate, and prescribed fire could be a way to manage for increased wiigwaasi-mitigoog. These trees are able to grow in a variety of soil conditions and can produce and distribute seeds well. Various forest By Melonee Montano and Hannah Panci Climate Change Program staff Inclusive effort yields wiigwaasi-jiimaan Under the direction of master builder Marvin DeFoe of Red Cliff, a broad range of kids and adults helped construct a wiigwaasi-jiimaan, or birch bark canoe, in New Odanah. In early July, Bad River members led DeFoe deep into the 124,000-acre reservation forest to locate paper birch trees that yielded mas- sive sheets of wiigwaas. From the first days of harvesting birch bark, jack pine roots, and other raw materials to the last coat of spruce pitch, the venture took four weeks. DeFoe welcomed everyone who appeared underneath the ironwood wigwam where construction took place throughout the work week. “The youth are so talented, respectful and helpful,” DeFoe said in the closing week of construction. “There were some really hot days, but we always had fun and lots of laughter.” Through funding by the Bad River Tribe, DeFoe shared his knowledge with community members, GLIFWC staff and interns, and statewide educators visiting the reservation to better understand native culture. —CO Rasmussen (see Wiigwaasi-mitig, page 6) Marvin DeFoe collects bundles of wiigwaas after a day harvesting. (COR)