In mid-July, the North Central Region Water Network headed to beautiful Duluth, Minnesota for the Climate Intersections Conference. As agriculture, natural resource, and water professionals, we know that climate change is threatening our agricultural systems, communities, watersheds, and way of life. The conference provided an opportunity to discuss climate solutions, hear new and different perspectives, and explore our role in fostering resilience and equity in our communities as the climate continues to change.
The conference kicked off with a walking tour of downtown Duluth to see how the city is putting their Climate Action Work Plan to work and a welcome reception on the shores of Lake Superior to reconnect with colleagues and develop new working relationships.
Kyle Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, served as the keynote speaker for the event. His highly anticipated presentation on Indigenous peoples and climate justice, encouraged us to think deeper about our relationships and work to foster trust, reciprocity, and kinship in our climate work.
Throughout the conference, Indigenous voices were highlighted and celebrated as attendees got to hear from two Water Walkers – or Indigenous Water Protectors – who shared the Nibi Song and how they walk across the country to bring awareness to clean water. Attendees also heard from Jerry Jondreau, owner of Dynamite Hill Farms and member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community whose message, “convenience is killing us” provided a raw, emotional look at the impact of climate change on our future generations.
The event featured three tracks: 1) creating resilient agricultural systems, 2) helping communities adapt to extreme weather, and 3) working in watersheds in times of change. Within each there were technical presentations, presentations on new extension programs, and interactive workshops where attendees could assess their community’s resilience with the Flood Resilience Scorecard or play a new model of the Watershed Game.
Throughout the conference, a central theme was how we, as water, climate, and natural resource professionals, can work to facilitate solutions to climate change that are equitable, just, and resilient.
For example, in a session hosted by members of the Minnesota, Illinois-Indiana, and Pennsylvania Sea Grant programs, Madison Rodman of Minnesota Sea Grant discussed how they are working in a historically low-income and industrialized neighborhood in Duluth to building water resilience through a community-driven visioning and leadership through small, replicable, green-infrastructure projects.
In another presentation from the Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu team, participants were given a copy of the menu and broke out into groups to explore solutions to a variety of climate scenarios using the strategies and approaches outlined in the menu. Participants discussed what it means to incorporate tribal values into our work and how to use the menu when interacting with Tribes in the future.
We were also excited to welcome two members of Blackfeet Nation to the event. Termaine Edmo with the Blackfeet Nation Environmental Office and Latrice Tatsey with Piikani Lodge Health Institute shared their work on the Blackfeet Climate Adaptation Plan and Food Sovereignty Strategic Plan, which incorporates Blackfeet knowledge – including beaver mimicry – and encourages intergenerational engagement through in-field pilot projects.
The Climate Intersections Conference was a long-overdue opportunity to convene with water, climate, and natural resource professions from across the North Central Region, hear the latest climate and water related research and programming, and discuss equitable solutions and challenges with colleagues.
Presenters sometimes got emotional as they discussed our greatest climate threats, and our role in the solutions that will move us forward. While at times these conversations can be heavy, it left the North Central Region Water Network team feeling energized to continue our work and inspired by the strength, tenacity, and innovations water professionals are bringing to their work each and every day.
Thank you to everyone with the North Central Region Water Network who helped make the event a success!