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Exploring the Past and Future of the Wild Rice Economy


Sep 10, 2023

The wild rice harvest has begun in northern Minnesota, and it is a tradition that is a thousand years old. Canoes can be seen strapped to vehicles as people make their way to the lakes to harvest this important crop. There is a sense of joy and connection to ancestors in this harvest, as well as a feeling of harmony with the natural world. Unlike industries like mining, logging, and oil, wild rice is a sustainable economy that has been thriving for centuries.

Both Native and non-Native people participate in this economy, with tribal members producing most of the wild rice for markets and processors. Parching wild rice is considered an art that is flourishing. For many, wild rice is not just a means to make money but also a way to provide food for their families and ensure the security of having wild rice in their pantries. This year, wild rice is selling for a good price, allowing people to repair their vehicles, purchase winter clothes, and buy fuel.

Different lakes ripen at different times, creating a staggered harvest throughout the season. These lakes are spread across the 1855 Treaty Territory, which is a large area in Minnesota. Traditional camps from centuries ago still exist today, where families would set up camp for a month and harvest enough wild rice to sustain them for the year. The harvest is accompanied by dancing and celebration, reflecting the abundance and joy of life.

Certain lakes, like the Sandy Lake Flowage and Nett Lake, hold legendary status for their large coverage of wild rice. These lakes have been trading hubs for wild rice for generations and continue to be important sources of this valuable food. Despite attempts to create genetically modified wild rice, the Anishinaabe people have fought to protect the purity and integrity of this traditional crop. Wild rice is considered more precious than oil or taconite, as it represents a deep connection to the land and history.

The resilience of wild rice is remarkable, as seen in instances where it has returned after being drowned for decades due to water level changes. The Mille Lacs band has fought for years to have water levels lowered in Onamia Lake, and when a drought occurred, the rice reappeared after 50 years. This demonstrates the endurance and importance of wild rice, even in a world filled with short-term solutions and a boom-bust economy.

Overall, wild rice is not just food for the belly but also nourishment for the soul. It represents a rich cultural heritage and a sustainable way of living in harmony with the natural world. Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe writer and economist, firmly believes in the power and significance of wild rice for both the present and future generations.

By Editor

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