Food & Environment Reporting Network: The Future of Wild Rice May Depend on an Unlikely Alliance

Hoping to halt the decline of the sacred plant in northern lakes, the Ojibwe partnered with scientists who represent a historical nemesis.

By Nancy Averett, February 15, 2023

On a warm August afternoon in 2019, University of Minnesota professor Crystal Ng, along with a handful of environmental science colleagues and students, launched a flotilla of kayaks and canoes down a slow-moving river in northern Wisconsin. The group was taking time out of its tight research schedule to follow Joe Graveen and Eric Chapman, natural resource managers for the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation, to a spot where wild rice, against all odds, was flourishing. 

Their armada skirted the ruins of beaver dams and maneuvered under wooden bridges until, after eight long miles, the open water disappeared. In its place, stalks of wild rice rose five feet into the air, filling the river from bank to bank. As Ng’s canoe slid into this massive greenery, for several minutes she could no longer see the other boats. If it had been harvest time and she were Ojibwe, Ng might have been standing, wielding a ricing stick to knock the husks into her hull. Instead she sat quietly, looking at the red-hued male blossoms that dangled from horizontal stems and the paler female flowers clustered higher up. She inhaled the plant’s earthy scent and listened as its leaves rustled…

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Researcher help to protect manoomin through partnership with Ojibwe tribes
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