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  • Writer's picturescottmherron

Wild Rice caretakers and harvesters-Time to start checking population status

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Manoomin, or wild rice, Zizania palustris and Zizania aquatica, should be up as floating leaf plants or even at emergent aquatic growth stage. Now if one is careful to only travel next to but not through the young tender plants, you can monitor growth stage, abundance, disease prevalence, and water conditions. In Michigan, a Christian saying from Matthew 9:27 rings true with wild rice "the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few".

As you ponder this from whatever tradition you follow or were raised with, there is deep physical and spiritual meaning to the words of Jesus that apply today in our society. I personally have had the honor of learning the entire manoomin cultural tradition from Anishinaabek experts from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan starting just after my PhD Dissertation days (say 2003-2010).

If you ever have the chance to listen to wild rice chief and expert Roger LaBine, you will learn that restoring a wild ricing culture and ecosystem is as much spiritual as it is physical restoration. In fact, he and I have coined and professionally presented on this eco-cultural restoration. You might learn about an ancient migration story and how the Anishinaabe people were guided to move from the East Coast (land of the rising sun/dawn), follow the great rivers and then Great Lakes, and to settle where the "food grows on the water". This manoomin prophecy really does speak to where Roger's community settled, Lac Vieux Desert (lake of the clearing) nestled on the Wisconsin/Michigan (western UP) border. The east end of that lake historically and recently has been home to critical manoomin population in Rice Bay. The tribe's historic preservation office was able to even get the federal government to recognize Rice Bay Wild Rice beds as a registered historic site on the National Register.

Back to my story about the abundance and lack of harvesters. Michigan is a very different state than Minnesota, in which most of our Anishinaabe communities did lose their knowledge and experience of the Wild Rice Culture. I state this as an experienced Wild Rice Camp instructor, whom has had the honor and privilege of teaching countless Native Americans wild rice harvesting, processing, tool making, life cycle, and eco-cultural restoration. Yet in Michigan, I know of many populations of both species of manoomin, northern and southern wild rice. However, I cannot for the life of me find Michigan wild rice for sale for restoration due to lack of harvesting culture here.

We are trying to change that, which is a reason for this blog post. I hope and pray that the August-September harvest is abundant, and I can find willing and experienced people to hand harvest wild rice this year. I have several lakes that would like to do restoration by adding hundreds of pounds of freshly harvested wild rice to their lake. Last year I had to cancel an ongoing project on Houghton Lake because both in Michigan and Wisconsin, I could get no one to sell living wild rice (before it has been parched, and processed for food).

Do You feel comfortable in a canoe, with spiders and bugs crawling about? Having someone like me stand up in the back of canoe to pull our way through shallow waters of wild rice beds. If you do, and would be willing to spend a day or more traveling to and learning to harvest this sacred food that grows on the water, contact me at my website.

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