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14 August 2009

Tom Howes, FDL Resource Management

Wild rice has been important to indigenous people in the Great Lakes region for thousands of years. Archaeological studies of pottery indicate consumption of wild rice in Minnesota for at least 2000 years. In Mishomis, Edward Benton Banai tells of the Anishinaabeg migration: “Many years ago, seven major nee-gawn-na-kayg’ (prohets) came to the Anishinaabe. These prophets left the people with seven prophecies, called Fires, each referring to a future era. These teachings are called the Neesh-wa-swi’ ish-ko-day-kawn’ (Seven Fires) of the Ojibway. The first prophet said: “In the time of the First Fire, the Anishinabe nation will rise up and follow the Sacred Shell of the Midewiwin Lodge…You will know that the chosen ground has been reached when you come to a land where food grows on water.” This prophecy was fulfilled at Lake Superior, where they found manoomin. Rice has sustained our people since their arrival in the region; its importance cannot be overstated.

A more recent example of the cultural importance of wild rice can be found in A Forever Story: The People and Community of Fond du Lac Reservation. Robert Peacock tells the story of how our Reservation boundaries were redrawn: “After a survey of the exterior boundary of the Reservation had been made in conformance with the 1854 treaty description, it was found that the southern boundary, as surveyed by Bradshaw, was three or four miles north of the principal Band settlement at Perch Lake. Complaints by the Fond du Lac Band to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of Interior were submitted to the President of the United States so that lands around Perch Lake could be withdrawn from sale and appropriate steps could be taken by the President to settle the existing problems with the boundary by changing the lines of the established treaty boundary.”

Manoomin generates more interest than all available natural resources. In the early 1900s, judicial ditching was a statewide practice intended to create more agricultural land. On Fond du Lac, these efforts proved disastrous for our rice lakes. Changes to Stony Brook changed the lakes’ response to rain events, altering the lakes’ plant community. FDL community members responded with sandbag dams, pull dams, and trapping to ensure the wild rice would be given a chance to endure.

As our Reservation has grown and changed, so has rice management. The FDL Natural Resources Program was formed in the 1980s to evaluate the ditch network and impacts on rice. A management plan emerged that called for water control structures to regulate water levels and the use of mechanical removal of competing vegetation. Details of the plan are available under the natural resources tab at For the past three years, FDL Resource Management Division has collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey and the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service to study the hydrology of the Stony Brook Watershed using scenario models. This study was initiated to improve understanding of local hydrology and to evaluate strategies to improve rice lake management. The long-term management goal is to return our wild rice lakes to pre-ditch conditions, honoring the gift of manoomin to our people by not only ensuring it is here this year, but for many years to come.

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