State to sow seeds of native wild rice plan with Michigan tribes

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Wild rice that grows in Michigan’s clearest, most pristine waters will be the focus of the state’s new efforts to safeguard some of the most culturally and ecologically significant native plants in the upper Great Lakes.

A recent $100,000 state grant will fund the collaborative creation of a new wild rice stewardship plan by the Michigan Wild Rice Initiative team. The resulting plan will be designed to protect and foster wild rice statewide, which is threatened by generations of habitat loss, degraded water quality, crop failure and climate change.

The effort grew out of state efforts to develop a water strategy about five years ago, said Katie Lambeth, environmental justice and tribal liaison for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Water. Michigan Energy.

“One of the common things that came up constantly in the tribes was the importance of wild rice and its inclusion in the water strategy. So one of the things that was outlined there was that the tribes will work with the state to elevate the recognition, protection and restoration of native wild rice stands across the state,” Lambeth said.

Wild rice is known as manoomin or mnomin in Anishinaabemowin, the native language of the Anishinaabek indigenous people of the Great Lakes, which includes the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi and other tribal nations of the United States and Canada. The word means “good seed” or “good berry”.

Manoomin is central to the Anishinaabek migration story, according to expert Roger LaBine of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Old Desert Lake Band in the Upper Peninsula. He said in a recent webinar that the Anishinaabek ancestors migrated from the northeast shores of Turtle Island – the name of North America for many indigenous peoples – and chose their new home. when they found wild rice in the Great Lakes region.

“When we found this food growing on water, we knew we were home. And one of the things we discovered is that this precious and sacred gift, this is the only place on Mother Earth where it grows, part of the Great Lakes Basin, the heart of Turtle Island.” , said LaBine.

Now, tribal experts will lead collaborative efforts to develop a new Wild Rice Management Plan, which includes two plant species in Michigan. Manoomin has remained a key subsistence food for the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes for generations.

“Wild rice mostly grows in six inches to three feet of water. And in water, when we talk about it, the water has to be of excellent quality,” LaBine said.

It is a sensitive plant that may not reseed itself if disturbed during any part of its life cycle. Even harvesting rice is a delicate process that should not disturb the roots of the plant. The indigenous rice farmers therefore use poles to push their canoes through the rice beds rather than using paddles which can tear plants from the bottom of lakes.

The goals of the next stewardship plan will be to protect what remains of native wild rice in Michigan, as well as continued efforts to return the species to places where it once thrived, said Indian community biologist Frank Zomer. of Bay Mills.

“A lot of what we’re dealing with is monitoring what’s there and talking about restoring it to where it was or just sort of generally restoring it to the landscape, right. We don’t necessarily need to have a written or oral account of its presence in a place, but if we can restore it to the landscape for people to have, that’s kind of the goal,” Zomer said.

The Michigan Wild Rice Initiative team will work with the University of Michigan Water Center to create a stewardship plan that “recognizes the manoomin as a sacred parent and valued member of aquatic communities in the Great Lakes region” , said Danielle Fegan, a biologist at the Sault Ste. . Marie Tribe of Chippewa and team co-chair with Lambeth.

The team includes representatives from each of the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies.

The wild rice stewardship plan is expected to lead to greater collaboration between tribal and state agencies, as well as more coordinated research, protection, and restoration of wild rice throughout Michigan.

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