The Bad River Band’s Wild Ricing Season is Looking Promising
Despite the Storm in 2016, the Season is Going Well
BAD RIVER RESERVATION, Wis.- Stalks of Manoomin or wild rice peacefully wave back and forth in the waters surrounding the Bad River Reservation. A healthy number of seeds can be seen on the plants. It is a welcome sight for Wild rice harvesters of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“Manoomin or wild rice is a very finicky plant. The ecology of Manoomin is pretty complex, it thrives in very distinct water levels, and it has to be nurtured through the various stages,” explains Dylan Jennings, a tribal council member.
A storm that swept through Northern Wisconsin last summer had tribal members worried about what the wild ricing season could look like this year, but as the season is opening up, those concerns are being put to rest.
“This year we had very high hopes that they would, the beds would recover, and so far it’s not bad from what we hear from our harvesters,” says Jennings.
Canoes float on the surface of the water as harvesters work together to gather the rice. One person moves the boat forward with a push pole, while the other uses ricing sticks to drop rice into the canoe.
“They use cedar shaped sticks three feet long or so, and they work back and forth. You use one stick to bend it over the boat and one to rake it off with, and just go back and forth. It’s kind of a rhythm,” says Joe Rose, a Bad River Band Member who processes Wild Rice.
After the harvesting the drying and processing begins. Many harvesters sun dry their wild rice for a few days, and take the rice to friends, family, or neighbors like Rose who know how to process the rice.
The steps include more drying, taking the husks off the rice, and separating the grains from the husks. The whole process of harvesting, drying and processing is meticulous work. But it’s all worth it for many of the tribal members, because the Manoomin isn’t just food for the Ojibwe people. It’s part of their culture, way of life, and a reason tribal members continue to be stewards of the land.
“Anishinaabe people are considered some of the very first Environmentalists,” says Jennings.
Many fight possible threats against the Manoomin like climate change, severe weather, and other environmental disasters, with the hope of passing the sacred Manoomin on to the next generation.
“Obviously the Bad River Band has taken a stance on an oil pipeline,” says Jennings. “An old oil pipeline close to our station, an old and aging pipeline, so you know, the thought of a spill contaminating everything that means the world to us is scary as well.”