Lake-Superior-Gitchigumi-nl-1

What happens when the ice disappears?

In our latest newsletter, we take you to the shores of Gitchigumi for a story on the fastest-warming Great Lake

What happens when the warming climate upends your way of life and your livelihood? Anishinaabe-kwe journalist Jolene Banning explored that question in this beautiful on the ground feature about Phillip “Benny” Solomon. Like Jolene, he’s a fellow member of Fort William First Nation, located on the northern shores of Gitchigumi, otherwise known as Lake Superior. 

Benny remembers when the ice ran so deep on Lake Superior that there was only a foot of water to fish in. “We cut the hole, standing in the hole. I was standing in six feet of ice,” the Anishinaabe fisherman told Jolene of a winter expedition in the 1990s.

But the ice, and Benny’s ice fishing, isn’t what it used to be. That’s because Gitchigumi is warming faster than any of the Great Lakes — and it’s losing ice cover quicker than any other lake in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jolene told this story as part of a cross-border collaboration between The Narwhal and Great Lakes Now, a show and site produced by Detroit Public TV.

“I used to hear these stories from my mum and dad about what ice fishing was like when they were kids, fishing with their parents and with their grandparents and how they would have this big net go in the water,” Jolene said during a recent Great Lakes Now online event. “Benny Solomon, a community member, he still fishes that way, so I asked him to take me out to show me.”

The unpredictable weather — Gitchigumi didn’t freeze until mid-January, about a month later than when Benny was younger — made planning for the trip difficult.

“We weren’t even sure if we were going to get out ice fishing or if we were going to take a boat,” Jolene recalled. Thankfully, they managed to pull it off, with photographer Damien Gilbert there to capture it all, with a video to boot.

“We set the nets and then the next day you could just see, not far from where we were fishing, it was already open water again,” Jolene said.

That unpredictability has major consequences for the people whose ways of life are so intertwined with Gitchigumi. And, of course, the risks are severe for wildlife: less ice cover can lead to toxic algal blooms which, along with warmer water, reduce the oxygen concentration that fish need to breathe.

With the Great Lakes under threat, Indigenous Peoples are taking leadership roles in protecting waters on the shores of their territories. For the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, as Jolene notes in her story, that includes managing enforcement of water standards on its part of the lake in Michigan. For Benny, it means taking his granddaughters out on Gitchigumi so they can learn and value the traditions that have been passed down through generations.

Take care and stand on solid ground,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience


The Narwhal is hiring

Colin Arisman Tulsequah Chief Taku River

Our pod just keeps on growing! We’re hiring for TWO MORE POSITIONS at The Narwhal and we need your help to spread the word.

We’re hiring a dedicated B.C. biodiversity reporter 🐻 Despite marketing itself as “super, natural B.C.,” the province is facing a looming extinction crisis. That’s why we’re looking for someone to report on not just the problems, but also the solutions at hand.

Calling all mining nerds ⛏️⛏️⛏️ Do you get a kick out of digging through environmental assessment applications? Some of the world’s biggest mining stories are unfolding in western and northern Canada — and we’re hiring a reporter to cover them.


This week in The Narwhal

A Saskatchewan Métis community wants to save its land. Dealing with government? ‘Like talking to a wall’

Peter Durocher, manager of Sakitawak, on his boat in the lake.

By Drew Anderson

The historic fur-trading community of Île-à-la-Crosse wants to create an Indigenous protected area named Sakitawak to protect the region’s forests, ways of life and vast carbon stores. Getting the province on board has proved to be a challenge. Read more.


Tracking what we know — and don’t know — about the attack on a Coastal GasLink worksite

A grainy dashcam image shows a person using a hand-held tool to drill through a big yellow gate

By Matt Simmons

Following millions of dollars in estimated damages at a natural gas pipeline worksite in northwest B.C., no arrests have been made and many questions remain. Read more.


What we’re reading

The Guardian: Is Putin’s Ukraine invasion about fossil fuels?
Globe and Mail: B.C. wolf hunt resumes despite public opposition

When you’re getting in ice time before it melts. Tell your friends to slide on over to our newsletter sign-up page to get their fill of climate coverage.

See where 120 orphaned baby bears take shelter as B.C. wildfires and drought shrink their habitat

It’s early February and the fields surrounding Northern Lights Wildlife Society shelter in Smithers, B.C., are bare and brown. Extreme drought conditions that dried up...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Thousands of members make The Narwhal’s independent journalism possible. Will you help power our work in 2024?
Will you help power our journalism in 2024?
… which means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
… which means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Overlay Image