Seeing the Forest with Two Eyes
Eleva Potter and Emily Hayne

On a weekend in February, Director of Conservation Programming Eleva Potter and Teaching Fellow Emily Hayne got to see the forest from two different perspectives through professional development opportunities. Local naturalist and author John Bates, who will visit Conserve School later this semester to talk with the students about ecology, hosted a public event in Woodruff, Wisconsin that Emily and Eleva attended. The event involved snowshoeing through a stand of old-growth hemlocks while learning from Bates about the ecology of the area. The following day Ojiibwe educator Katy Bresette led staff and students at Conserve School on a snowshoe to find animal tracks on campus. Both of these experiences are examples of "Two-Eyed Seeing," which “refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing and learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Institute for Integrative Science and Health).

Snowshoeing through the hemlock forest with John Bates and his wife Mary Burns opened our eyes to see the world as an ecological process. Along the path, we stopped at the call of a broadwing hawk, an animal which is known to gather in the masses in Duluth, Minnesota, during the winter migration to South America. What we learned about the 150-year-old hemlocks found in Wisconsin’s old-growth forests, is that they now comprise only one percent of the Northwoods (6,000 acres.)  Historically, hemlocks were not used as lumber but instead harvested for their bark, which was used in tanning animal hides. John Bates also talked about the other trees in the area, such as white pines and yellow birch and the ecological needs of different tree species to tolerate the sandy soils of northern Wisconsin. During the hike, we noticed the cones of the hemlocks scattered about the snow, a sign that squirrels were eating and tossing the seeds about. Looking across the forest floor and understory, we noted there was not a lot of new growth. Another sign that animals, deer specifically, have browsed the plants and young trees. 

Katy Bresette (Ziigwanikwe, Red Cliff) and her partner Jerry Jondreau (Gidigaa bizhiw, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) were the Semester Speakers for CS20. They presented on Ojibwe history and culture in the Northwoods through both traditional stories and their own experiences. In their presentation, they talked about the Original Treaty between all of creation and the Annishinabe (first people). Explaining how all of the plants and animals agreed to give humans a gift to help them survive in exchange for people taking care of creation. Katy and Jerry elaborated that this treaty has never been broken by the Ojibwe, but has been broken by many others. According to the Seven Fires Prophecy, this means that humanity has reached the Eighth Fire, which means it has come to a crossroads where we can pick the green path of life and health or the black path of destruction. 

The next day Katy led a forest snowshoe to show what walking the green path looks like for her and her family. Before the hike, she put down asema (tobacco) to let the snow know that the group would be walking on the frozen water and displacing it. Katy pointed out Snowshoe rabbit tracks and talked about how she and her daughter follow the rabbit highways to find the best places to put out snares. She also described how she harvests traditional medicines and foods like maple sugar and wild rice. Katy explained the reciprocity of how her family tries to give back to the land for all of the gifts they are given by restoring the native ecosystem and making room for other beings such as ma'iingan (wolves).

Both of these experiences helped us, as well as the other participants, gain a deeper understanding of the Northwoods. It takes both a scientific and indigenous perspective on the ecology and human connection to nature to feel at home in a place truly. Two-eyed Seeing can help learners of all ages recognize ancestral lands, human history in a place, and how we can best steward our environment for the health of all beings.

Photos contributed by Eleva Potter, Director of Conservation Programming.

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