Protecting Manoomin through Anishinaabe Law

By Amy Myszko

Rights of nature is a movement that seeks to give non-human relatives legal status as persons, and has gotten some traction around the world, as well as here in Minnesota. The White Earth Nation voted to give manoomin (wild rice) rights in 2019, in order to help protect wild rice and the habitats in which it grows. This legal standing is important due to manoomin’s status as not only an integral food source for Ojibwe and non-Native people in Minnesota, but most crucially because of the role manoomin plays at the center of Anishinaabe prophecy, spirituality and culture.

The next step with protecting manoomin legally on White Earth is work at the WE Tribal level to codify these rights into actionable policies and laws, in order to give the rights of manoomin some “teeth,” i.e. the ability to uphold them legally. This is still a process in the works, and the Niibi Center, a Native run non-profit here on WE has been working with private legal counsel as well as the Tribal DNR to solidify policies that can be used to protect manoomin on Tribal lands. But, this is just touching the surface of the work needed in the area of Natural Law (also referred to as Anishinaabe Law) going forward.

As we saw with the Manoomin vs. DNR case that was thrown out by a WE Tribal appellate court last year, even Tribal legal systems need to be educated about how to work with the existing rights of manoomin legislature in order to better protect wild rice and the lands on which it grows. That case focused on the imminent damage to water and manoomin that the State DNR was failing to prevent through their support of Enbridge, a Canadian corporation, during the Line 3 construction project. The Tribal appellate court threw out the case because they didn’t believe they had jurisdiction, however lawyers who specialize in rights of nature work, as well as Tribal members, have questioned that decision.

The Niibi Center is taking action on this front as well, with a first annual Anishinaabe Law conference that will be held June 25 and 26, 2023 at the Shooting Star Casino. This is intended to be the first of many conversations in the community where Tribal leaders from other parts of the country and world can come and share how they have utilized existing Tribal and non-Tribal legal systems to protect traditionally sacred foods/lands and uphold Tribal sovereignty. The community is invited, and the focus will be on education in order to build capacity for enacting and upholding Anishinaabe Law at the local Tribal level. Ultimately, we would like to collaborate with other Tribal Nations and Indigenous tradition keepers on how to best interface Anishinaabe Law systems with State and Federal law here in Minnesota and beyond.

The Anishinaabe Law Conference will be free and open to the public, with a focus on educating current Tribal legal systems in Minnesota. You can register now at this link if you are interested in attending.

The original article is also published on page 2 of the February Issue of the Anishinaabeg Today:,%202023.pdf

wild rice basket
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