Settlers nearly destroyed Michigan’s wild rice beds. The native tribes restore them.

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There is a rich tradition of wild rice in our state, especially for Michigan’s original inhabitants. The plant plays a big role in the cultivation of the Anishinaabe tribes, who call it manoomin.

Vast rice paddies once stood at the mouths of Michigan rivers. Some spanned thousands of acres. When the European settlers arrived, they almost destroyed the resource.

Today, only one queen bed remains in Michigan, but work is underway to restore and protect wild rice.

Roger labine is a member of the Chippewa Indian Band of Lac Supérieur du Lac Vieux Desert. Barbara barton is an endangered species biologist and author of Manoomin: The History of Wild Rice in Michigan. The two joined in the USA Cynthia Canty to discuss the history of wild rice.

Credit Barbara Barton

Barton says wild rice has probably grown in Michigan for thousands of years.

Until 10 years ago, Barton, a career biologist, didn’t even know wild rice grows in Michigan.

“Most non-tribal people don’t know that wild rice grows wild here. It’s not cultivated, it’s not an agricultural crop here, it’s wild, ”Barton said.

According to Barton, European settlers viewed rice paddies as a nuisance to travel. In the 1800s, the Army Corp of Engineers dredged rivers in an attempt to facilitate transportation. This stimulated development and pollution along the shores, which led to the destruction of the beds of wild rice.

LaBine adds that all of this happened at a time when the US government was trying to assimilate Native Americans and force them to lock themselves up on reservations.

“The importance of manoomin is just as important as trying to maintain our language. So we have to bring, nurture and keep this manoomin here, because it’s the only place on Mother Earth where it grows, ”LaBine said.

Listen above to hear Barton and LaBine discuss some of the restoration efforts and progress they have made in restoring wild rice in Michigan.

This article was written by US production assistant Sophie Sherry.

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