Knowing which way the wind blows: weather observation, belief and practice in Native Oklahoma – first impressions

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner
Monday, 18 January 2010
Randy A. Peppler, CIMMS/Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Handout (2.6 MB)

I will present first impressions of field interviews I am conducting as part of dissertation research that seeks to understand how Native Americans in Oklahoma conceptualize weather and climate, particularly in local, traditional ways, and how this conceptualization is informing new efforts to farm, ranch and garden traditionally within the broader framework of creating food sovereignty. Local knowledge of weather and climate in this setting may be shaped by direct observations of nature, important events from the past and in places, and stories and practices passed down from previous generations, some or all of which may be traditionally informed. As another “way of knowing” this knowledge may serve as valuable insight and contribute another important perspective for observing, understanding, and dealing with complex environmental changes such as climate change. Interviews include queries about attachments to place, involvement in agricultural-related business and social groups and casual discussions with individual farmers and the impacts all of these have on farming, the extent to which weather and farming knowledge and advice are shared, the types of commonly-available weather information they seek and how much they use it in their decision making, and whether they trust their own weather intuition more than what they see on television or find on the Internet. The main portion of the interviews, most importantly, allows the farmers to explain and tell stories about their personal weather knowledge and if or how they use it in farming decisions, and whether they attempt to farm traditionally. Interviews conclude with thoughts about climate change and if the farmers have observed it and, if so, whether it has affected their farming.

To date, my informants have explained traditional weather and climate knowledge to me mostly as the observation of key signs in nature that may be guided but not constrained by tribal worldviews of nature. Family members like fathers or grandfathers have passed down these signs. These signs most often consist of the behavior of animals and plants and of the clouds and stars, signs consistent with those I found during pre-research with historical documents as explained by previous generations in Oklahoma and across the U.S. The farmers have are prideful about their weather and farming knowledge, and sometimes other farmers, often younger, seek them out for their knowledge. They feel their particular observations are likely unique to their place but also feel that similar signs are available in other places, just conveyed to local people in different ways. Farming traditionally includes no-till methods that conserve water, and maintaining seed varieties in a time of genetically modified organisms is seen as an extremely high but difficult-to-maintain priority. Climate change is viewed by the farmers as something that is ongoing and exacerbated by humans, but that their farming has been modified so far in a good way by allowing for the later planting in the fall of over-winter crops such as wheat because of the perception that freezes are occurring later than normal. The farmers I have talked to feel that what they know could contribute locally to the discourse and practice regarding climate change adaptation.