LaDuke: When the frogs sing
"As much as we have lost, we still have wild things. The biodiversity of the north country provides a home for the animals and the people, butterflies and frogs. Yet, that biodiversity is being
Iskigamizigigiizis, or the maple syrup moon, and time ends, when the frogs come out. That’s how we know it is time to pull the taps. We recently heard the frogs sing, and we finished our sugar and left the sugarbush.
This past week at Shell Lake, we could also see the eagles, swans and geese return. The trumpeter swans were almost extinct in Minnesota, but a collaboration between the Minnesota DNR and the White Earth tribal biology department brought them back. Now, they rule the lake. Then come the herons, sandhill cranes and the pelicans returning to their homelands. The skies and lakes are alive. It’s mating season, and there are some spectacular rituals, particularly the airborne mating of eagles. It’s also baby time, and if you’re quiet in the northland, you can see the martens, otters, beavers, foxes, all with their young. That’s life.
It's said that my ancestors could ride for three days solid and always have a buffalo herd in sight, elk, moose, birds, fish and wild rice in abundance. Much of that is still here, remnants of when America was great. Or maybe when our Akiing was full of life.
As much as we have lost, we still have wild things. The biodiversity of the north country provides a home for the animals and the people, butterflies and frogs. Yet, that biodiversity is being fragmented by government policies, corporations, greed, and downright stupidity.
The World Wildlife Fund’s 2020 Living Planet Report found that the world has seen an average 68% drop in mammal, bird, fish, reptile and amphibian populations since 1970. Most of the loss is caused by habitat destruction due to unsustainable agriculture or logging. Humans have consumed more than our share and created enough wastes to make our relatives “paupers in their own land.”
Five years ago, I was in Meghalaya, India, one of the most biodiverse places in the world. I saw the black rhino there. One of the last of her species. Sad. Today there are more wild cats in private collections and zoos than in the wild.
Here’s the thing: We can make choices that protect biodiversity. Those are some simple choices. A good start would be to cut the herbicides, stop clear-cutting, and kick the plastic habit. A United Nations report explains “… it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.”
It's not all about how to make a buck in the north. It’s about being able to protect all that we value, Democrat, Republican, Green or Anishinaabe. Northern Minnesota is a place where biodiversity remains, and it’s not surprising. We have cared for this land for thousands of years, and many have joined us. Indigenous peoples represent 4% of the world’s people but live with 75% of the biodiversity. Northern Minnesota has seven Anishinaabe reservations, treaty-protected territories, and the lakes and woods of the northland we all love. Here you can see waawaatesewag, or fireflies, in the dark skies at night.
Turns out you must fight to protect it, as there’s always a new way to destroy nature. Beyond the pipelines, there are big mining plans, and logging projects, like the Huber Mill proposed near Cohasset, Minnesota. That facility, if it ever gets approval, would need 400,000 cords of wood annually – up to 1 million tons – a figure the DNR calls “a sustainable harvest” of trees. By comparison, the Minnesota DNR in 2019 offered only 875,000 cords from all state land. But 400,000 cords isn’t sustainable, and it turns our forests into plantations for corporations.
It's time to stand up for the wild things if we want them to be here. Take the frogs. Frogs are essential to ecosystems. Without tadpoles to guzzle algae, algae blooms can choke streams. Without frogs to eat insects, some disease-carrying species may become more common. And, for those who dine on frogs, they need to find new foods.
There are some big diseases worldwide which can kill frogs. In Akiing, Syngenta-produced atrazine is a big problem. That’s the herbicide lavished on all the big industrial fields, for corn and soybeans, about 80 million pounds annually. “Atrazine, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a study by University of California, Berkeley. These frogs are considered chemically castrated. Wow.
“These male frogs are missing testosterone and all the things that testosterone controls, including sperm.” According to numerous reports, Atrazine causes tumors, breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers as well as leukemia and lymphoma. It is an endocrine-disrupting chemical interrupting regular hormone function, causing birth defects and reproductive tumors. Yet the Ponsford and Hubbard prairie are about to be inundated with the stuff. In 2020, a federal court ordered the EPA to ban atrazine from Hawaii and reaffirmed prohibitions of using the cancer linked herbicide on roadsides and more. Atrazine is banned in Europe but not in northern Minnesota.
As Chief Seattle once said, “What befalls the Earth befalls the people of the Earth.” Chemical castration sounds pretty horrible guys. That’s also why we stand up for the wild things. Because they need a place to live, and we would like to live with them, Omaa Akiing, here. This is where the wild things are.
Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.