Climate conference wants tribes to help lead the way on the environment

Portesters march to the Leicht Memorial Park for the Rally to Protect Clean Water, Friday, April 29, at the CityDeck in Green Bay, Wis. The Indigenous-led protest is against the Line 5 oil pipeline and the Back 40 Mine. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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As the original stewards of this land and with such a huge reverence for nature ingrained into their traditional cultural beliefs, Indigenous people have long taken the lead on protecting the environment.

But in being such a small percentage of the overall population, they can’t do it alone, as prominent Menominee musician Wade Fernandez realizes.

"We're (Indigenous people) always the ones who are protecting the environment, but it's not only our responsibility," he said. "It has to be a shared responsibility ... because it affects everybody."

Organizers of a climate action conference next month in Madison are looking for more Indigenous participants to voice their concerns and express their ideas.

The Wisconsin Academy is hosting Climate Fast Forward from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at Monona Terrace in Madison, and they’re inviting all Midwest tribal citizens.

Forrest Funmaker, agricultural researcher and education manager for the Ho-Chunk Nation, will be in attendance.

“We don’t want to turn the Earth into a meteorite,” he said. “We want people to learn about the interrelationship of all the spirits all around us and about the rights of nature.”

Funmaker said the traditional seven-generation concept that Indigenous people believe is about always considering how our actions could affect future generations, which should be at the core of environmentalism.

“The Western colonizer perspective is that man is on top of the pyramid and gets to do whatever he wants because that’s his ability,” he said. “We want people to show respect for nature and not think of everything as a bottom line.”

The purpose of Climate Fast Forward is to create a climate action plan with tribal nations leading the way.

The climate action plan will published early next year and presented to state leaders.

One of the five climate change-related tracks at the conference is titled "Traditional Perspectives on the Environment." It will be led by Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings and Sara Smith.

This is the second Climate Fast Forward conference held by the Academy. The first was in 2019 and drew more than 300 people.

“The Academy wants to make sure tribal nations who often have been historically been left out of climate change action decisions are represented and heard at the conference,” said Lizzie Condon, environmental initiatives director for the Academy.

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About me

I'm Frank Vaisvilas, a Report For America corps member based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. You can reach me at 815-260-2262 or, or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Madison climate conference seeks tribal way on protecting environment