Manoomin, The Good Seed and The Great Need

Black duck wild rice field

Anishinaabe Food Security with Black Duck Wild Rice

By Xico Maher

Thirty-eight years ago, James Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation found himself in the middle of a blockade in Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, preventing non-natives from engaging in commercial harvesting of manoomin, or wild rice. “They [people from Ardoch] took us out into the canoes and showed us how to gather wild rice, showed us how to bring the seeds back to shore, and turn them into food … The great need that my body remembered for that food came alive with that experience. I could see the great value of going out to gather seeds that could be turned into food, and it could be so resilient and last years if you could keep it dry — and when you went to cook it, it could still be as good as the day you processed it.” 

Manoomin, meaning the good seed or the gift of Creator, is a grain called wild rice due to its similar appearance to rice. Manoomin grows in shallow water in lakes across northern Turtle Island. It has been grown, curated and used by Anishinaabe people for thousands of years. Manoomin pollen can be dated back ten thousand years, and archeological evidence on an island nearby shows that Anishinaabe people had been using manoomin since at least four thousand years ago. Manoomin is rich in protein, and if processed properly can last years and remain edible. 

James Whetung is the man behind Black Duck Wild Rice, a rehabilitation project and business that, for 38 years, has been dedicated to restoring manoomin beds in the lakes surrounding Curve Lake First Nation. The operation is run out of James’ home which overlooks one of the many lakes that make up Curve Lake, and from the window the rice beds are visible. The beds are almost swamp-like in appearance, seeming as if one could walk on them as the plants are bunched thickly together. As James explains, the ancient relationship that Anishinaabe people had with manoomin has rapidly declined and diminished within the past 80 years. James himself witnessed this great decline. “My uncle brought home some wild rice seeds,” Whetung says, speaking of an experience from when he was three years old. “I remember dancing and playing on that rice on the wooden floor of the mission house.”  The mission house was the home his family lived in when James was young and is described as the most imposing structure in the village of Curve Lake, run by Christian missionaries. “As I was growing up, wild rice wasn’t a big thing in my life. Most of our culture was wiped out from social memory by the genocidal acts of the Canadian government. They removed us from the land, declared Terra Nullius and gave away the land to the colonizers.”

“Food security is an idea that is pretty hard to get your mind around until a hurricane comes, and you go down to the store — there’s no food left in it, there’s no water left, there’s nothing, the shelves are empty. It does not take long for that to happen, three or four days. There’s no food.”

As James grew, he continued to witness the diminishment of wild rice beds in his community. “The rice beds were declining so rapidly. The whole ecosystem that’s built around the manoomin was also disappearing … there are so many things that want to eat it [manoomin]. Geese with their long necks come along by the hundreds and thousands into the rice beds and they wanna eat wild rice. Other animals such as ducks, moose, or the hundreds of thousands of blackbirds that go into the rice beds every fall, and live right in the plants and eat the rice — and they eat a lot.” Millions of bugs, little fish, and the muskrat have “had a longer relationship with manoomin than people have, and they’re manoomin culture. They build their houses out of the plants, and they eat the house itself over the winter.” Therefore, the local wildlife would have been severely impacted by the decline of manoomin. This also leads to more impacts on the community of Curve Lake, as hunters would target rice beds for the animals that would go there to feed.

One of the greatest challenges, described by James, is the cottage and boating industries. Cottages in and around the reserve, that are owned and rented out to non-natives, have given way to a grand industry that grows every year. The destructive ways in which the land for these cottages were developed to be built on have severely harmed the rice beds as well and changed the entire face of the lakes and river systems. With the rise of cottaging came boating, and the houseboat industry. The boats would vent the exhaust through the water, which filtered it through itself. Sewage from houseboats would be dumped into the lakes and rivers. The waterways grew filthy, choking out the rice beds. The boat traffic would cut right through young and vulnerable rice beds just as they began to grow, and traffic on the “lakes continues to grow every year.”

“It wasn’t just the dirty water,” James continued explaining. “Trent Severn waterway had a mandate to eradicate the weeds. Weed eradication program — they used Agent Orange to eradicate the weeds along the lakes to make way for the boats.” Yes, the Agent Orange, used as chemical warfare on the Vietnamese by the American imperialist military. “And I have proof for that … There was a man out here in our village who had worked for Trent Canal for years. He got my brother and a couple other workers to come over to his place, opened the shed and showed them the cans of Agent Orange … Is it any surprise that not only Nishnabes’ health is affected but everyone living on the Trent Severn waterway … And it’s only been recently that they stopped using it and stopped issuing permits to have poison put in the water to wipe out aquatic weeds. So it wasn’t just organic pollution.”

James Whetung and his daughter standing side by side smiling
James Whetung and his daughter

The impacts from the restoration of manoomin in Curve Lake are many, but the impact on the importance of food sovereignty remains present in discussions surrounding wild rice and Indigenous traditional food restoration in general. “Until very recently, I never felt, or it was difficult for me to think of it as a sovereignty issue or a food security issue — just because it was so difficult and not many people cared about it or wanted it. In 2015, my community started giving me a piece of paper, saying I had the right to gather wild rice. That’s when I started to feel like it was more of a sovereignty issue — not just to me, but to us as a people. There’s no doubt in my mind that manoomin is a sovereignty issue.” The last time the Anishinaabek people signed a treaty with Canada was in 1923, the Williams Treaties, and James explains how treaties are on a nation-to-nation basis, not a nation-to-provincial basis. The common misconception among the Canadian public is that treaties with the government happen reservation-to-reservation — it was the Anishinaabek nation that signed a treaty in 1923, the same way that the Haida or Cree or Mi’kmaq nations signed treaties with the crown and government, signed as sovereign nations with the intention of remaining entirely sovereign. “Our peoples’ memory of sovereignty has been diminished a lot and I don’t even know if there’s many people who consider it a sovereign issue. I myself do and I am not alone in that.

As a sovereign nation, we should be able to determine our food security.” The restoration of manoomin is a practice of national sovereignty, cementing Anishinaabe nation’s right to the land that has been used by them for millennia, and their right to maintain access to good, healthy, sustainable food. “Food security is an idea that is pretty hard to get your mind around until a hurricane comes, and you go down to the store — there’s no food left in it, there’s no water left, there’s nothing, the shelves are empty. It does not take long for that to happen, three or four days. There’s no food.” And so, there comes the importance of manoomin, the great seed: high in protein, low in carbs, long-lasting if taken care of, and delicious. “If you process it properly, it’ll last for years. If you have substantial and sufficient rice beds, that is security. You need a constant source of food, not just food but good, healthy food. Macaroni won’t do it … That’s what it means to me, good health too. The lifestyle of gathering wild rice, it’s a lot of work. As a family or a community, it’s quite possible and I have proved that.

When asked what he has learnt through all his years spent ricing, James speaks of relationships, and it is not unlike what other Anishinaabe people would say. The importance of relationships, respect and reciprocity is a theme common in Anishinaabe culture — in the way their society is constructed and sustained. Just as the Anishinaabe entered treaties with a vision of respect and reciprocity on a nation-to-nation basis with Canada, the Anishinaabe have always held the same standard in their relationships with the land, the water, the food, and all beings that reside on Turtle Island. “I’m not a know-it-all. What I know has been learned with great difficulty. I’ve had to travel great distances, at great expense, I might as well say, to learn about wild rice when it’s not in your own home. I’ve learned the value of seeds. We gotta have access to those seeds … Monitoring, taking care, having a relationship with those plants. You just don’t go out to gather the seeds in the two or three weeks you have in September. You go out watching, there’s a lot of things out there you see. And I’ve learnt a lot about that, about the plant itself, the biology of that plant, the relationship that plant has with all of creation. I don’t know it all, I’m learning still, and there is so much to learn.” 

a ziploc bag of harvested black duck wild rice with a tag that reads "wild rice gathered and processed in the kawartha lakes region"
Harvested black duck wild rice

“I’ve learnt that our community is just in shambles — it’s tattered, it’s torn, it’s wrecked ever since they made the reserves. The genocide that’s been imposed upon us and our peoples have caused so much damage … So I learned how pathetic we are. I went to other reserves where they’ve had the whole community involved in gathering wild rice — the grannies, grandpas, men, women, the children — all taking part in some way … For years and years people have been coming up to me, telling me I should be cutting down those plants, wanting me, offering to hire me to cut down those plants. To the point where I’ve had people coming up screaming and yelling hateful, racist, rants, and rages at me. So I’ve learned how upset they are. I’ve learned that there’s people who care about us as Nishnabe people. Through truth and reconciliation, through education at schools or by volunteers coming here offering their services free to plant and gather and take care of our equipment. I’ve learnt so much about processing wild rice.” 

When asked about the future of Black Duck Wild Rice, James said that 38 years of work has not yet fulfilled his dreams. More work is to be done, more rice is to be planted, and considering the situation manoomin restoration is in with the cottage industry and the people who own said cottages, James himself says the work will be hard. “I have dreams. My dream is to put the rice back in Rice Lake. And from my experience of putting the rice back in these lakes around Curve Lake, I know it’s going to be a big, difficult job. Overcoming those obstacles, in the near future, not waiting forever to rehabilitate Rice Lake. That’s it.” The future seems bright, despite oncoming obstacles, and like other Indigenous people working to restore their nation’s sovereignty through reclamation of culture lost through the years of colonization, the impact is rippling and growing year by year as the rice beds do. “Trying to put back the rice in Rice Lake, it deals with soverignty issues too because over the years, genocide practices have used the divide-and-conquer tactic. Right now, Curve Lake is Curve Lake First Nation, Scugog is Scugog First Nation. I don’t believe in that. I think we are all one nation. And so I’m hoping that we can gather up our forces again and be a nation, a sovereign nation.”

To learn more and support Black Duck Wild Rice, visit their website: 

Xicohtencatl Maher is a 2spirited Tlaxcaltecan Nahua and Newfie, born in Mexico and living currently on Anishinaabek territory. He is an activist, artist, writer, escuincle and shit-disturber, and in his free time enjoys mixed martial arts and going out on the land.

Gimiwan Finds Manoomin Seeds

illustration of a man and women canoing to harvest wild rice

By Chyler Sewell

The sharp whistle of the tea kettle drowns out the heavy pattering of rain, if only for a short while. 

Mom stands up from her spot at the table, where her laptop sits open, and papers stretch out messily. She opens a new can of peppermint tea and holds it close to her nose, the smell delighting her senses.

Quick light footsteps sound from the hallway, and then, a little girl. Her black hair in two braids and her dark brown eyes glittering with excitement. 

“Can I tell you a story, Mama?”

Mom smiles, and carries her cup over to the old saggy blue couch in the living room. “Of course, kwezens.” Mom replies, patting the spot beside her.

Eagerly, the little girl skips over from the kitchen and climbs up to sit beside her mother. She sinks down, comfortable in the crook of Mom’s arm. 

“Mama, my story is about food.” the little girl says.

“Okay, love.”

“Alright, Mama” kwezens says, wiggling in her spot. “My story starts with a kid like me. This kid.” Kwezens looks out the window “I’m gonna call them Gimiwan. Mama, do you know what gimiwan means?”

“Gimiwan is rain in our language, kwezens.” Mom says and brushes a stray lock of hair away from her child’s face. As she does, she remembers the excitement, recalls the sense of infinite possibilities that is so innate in children. A fond smile, small but there, dawns on Mom’s face.

“Yeah! It’s raining, and it’s a word I like and it’s a word Grandma teached me. That’s why my story has a kid named Gimiwan in it.” 

Mom’s fond smile  transforms into a small chuckle. 

“That’s lovely, Kwezens.”

“Okay Mama. So, Gimiwan likes to garden, but Gimiwan can’t get seeds. They want to plant mano . . . manomin? Mama, how do you say it?”

“Manoomin? Like, wild rice in our language?” 

“Yeah! That’s it! Manoomin! Gimiwan wants to plant manoomin but they can’t get seeds.”

The room goes silent for a moment. The little girl stares at the wall, her head tilted, and her brows furrowed.

“What happens next Kwezens?” Mom prompts.

“I don’t know Mama . . .” the little girl trails off. “Where do you get manoomin seeds? I don’t want Gimiwan to be sad, but I don’t know where they’d get the manoomin seeds.”

“Aw Kwezens, it’s alright” Mom says, and pats the little girl’s head. “I’ll tell you how Gimiwan gets their seeds, ‘kay?” She hugs her daughter close.

“Okie dokie!” 

“So, Gimiwan needs manoomin seeds but doesn’t know how to get them. Wanna guess who Gimiwan asks?”

“Oh! Oh! I know!” Kwezens exclaims, raising her hand. After a nod from mom, she says, “Gimiwan would ask Grandma!”

“Yes Kwezens, Gimiwan would ask Grandma. So, that’s what Gimiwan does. They go and see their grandma, they sit, and visit, and have tea with their grandma. Gimiwan listens as Grandma tells them about her day, and they listen as Grandma tells Gimiwan stories. Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt– ” 

“Yeah! Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt because the old people don’t get visitors a lot, right? And Gimiwan’s grandma is an old person.”

Mom chuckles. “Right, Kwezens.”

“Oh! Is my Grammy an old person, then? Grammy has friends who visit her and go to the casino with her.”

“Haha! Yes, Grammy is still an old person Kwezens. Sure, there are many elders who aren’t visited as often as they should be, but there are also elders who have many friends. Grammy is one of those elders, kwezens.” Mom says, then pauses. “Gimiwan’s grandma has friends, but they’re farther away, so she doesn’t get to see them too often. That’s why Gimiwan stays and visits with their grandma.” 

The little girl looks down at her hands and twiddles her thumbs. “Mama, can we visit Grammy soon?”

“Of course Kwezens.” Mom says, reaching to grab her daughter’s hands. “Wanna finish this story first?”

The little girl holds mom’s hands tight. “Yeah! I want to hear how Gimiwan gets the manoomin seeds.”

Mom nods, a gentle grin on her face. “When grandma finishes talking, she says to Gimiwan, ‘So, grandchild, what did you come for?’ Gimiwan smiles, and finally broaches the question to their grandma.”

“. . . Mama, what does broaches mean?” the little girl asks hesitantly.

“Oh, I’m sorry Kwezens.” Mom awkwardly laughs. “I forgot that you’re still learning words. Broaches, hm, how do I explain broaches . . . It means to finally ask the question.”

“So Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get the seeds!”

“Yes, they do! Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get seeds. Grandma tells Gimiwan that they have to go to where food grows on the water. Where Gimiwan lives, food doesn’t grow on water.”

“Oh! Food grows on the water here!” Kwezens begins, excited. “But Mama, why isn’t Gimiwan here?” The little girl furrows her brows again. This time, her furrowed gaze directed at Mom.

“Gimiwan, before they were born, their mom moved far away, Kwezens. Gimiwan didn’t grow up where food grows on water.” Mom replied quickly, feeling unnerved by her child’s gaze.  

“But Mama, that’s sad. What did Gimiwan eat then?”

“Aw, sweetheart, Gimiwan still ate food. It’s not like we only eat manoomin, right?”

“Yeah, Mama, you’re right. But– but Mama, manoomin is my favourite food.” the little girl pouts.

“Gimiwan ate manoomin before Kwezens, don’t worry. But doesn’t Gimiwan want to grow manoomin?”

“Yeah Mama, Gimiwan wants to grow manoomin. Just like me!” Kwezens stands up on the couch and reaches as high as she can. “I wanna grow manoomin when I’m this big!”

“Yeah? You wanna go out in the canoes with those long sticks and harvest manoomin? Just like your cousins?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“Aw, Kwezens, you’ll be big enough soon, don’t worry.” Mom says, and coaxes her daughter back down onto the couch. 

“Okay Mama. What happens next?”

“Next? Next, Gimiwan decides to go to where food grows on water.” Mom says.

“But what about Gimiwan’s mama? Wouldn’t Gimiwan’s mama miss them?” Concern was written on the little girl’s face.

“Of course Gimiwan’s mom would miss them, sweetie. You know what though?” Mom pulled the little girl on her lap. “Gimiwan’s mom would also want Gimiwan to go off and learn about things that she didn’t get to learn about. If Gimiwan can heal themself, they’ll also be healing all their ancestors.”

The little girl let her head rest on her mom’s chest. “I don’t ever want to leave you, Mama.”

“Not yet, at least, Kwezens.” Mom says playing with one of her daughter’s braids. “You might when you’re older.”

“Like Gimiwan?”

“Yeah, sweetie. Like Gimiwan.”

“What does Gimiwan do when they get to where food grows on the water?” Kwezens yawns.

“Well, when Gimiwan gets to where food grows on the water, they learn how to cultivate manoomin. They learn to go out on the canoes with the sticks. They learn how to use the sticks to tap the rice off the plant, and they learn about dancing on the rice and tossing it up on a blanket during a windy day to get the husks off. Gimiwan stays where food grows on the water for a long time and learns all of these things.They even learn how to cook manoomin.” Mom says.

Soft snores leave her daughter’s open mouth.

“Aw, did you fall asleep Kwezens?” Mom whispers, brushing a strand of hair away from the little girl’s face. “I’ll tell you tomorrow about how Gimiwan brings manoomin seeds back to their home, okay? I’ll tell you about how Gimiwan reteaches his mom and his grandma about manoomin and how they share the teachings with the people. Okay?”

“Mmhmm, Mama.” Kwezens mumbles.

“I love you Kwezens. Have a good sleep.” Mom says, and places a gentle kiss on her daughter’s head. 

Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe youth from Garden River Ontario. Currently living in Hamilton Ontario, she organizes and facilitates events for Indigenous youth. As an aspiring novelist, Chyler also spends her free time creating fantastical worlds from Indigenous youth perspectives.

A Journey Home

painting of a silhoutte of person rowing in a lake. the skies are pink and redish and the lake is purple and blueish

The Decolonizing Work of Nancy Rowe

By Xicohtencatl Maher Lopez with Nancy Rowe

It was with this idea that Giidaakunadaad, or Nancy Rowe, a Mississauga, Ojibwe, Bear Clan Kwe of the Anishinaabek Nation, founded Akinomaagaye Gaamik, also known as the Lodge of Learning. Akinomaagaye Gaamik is a grassroots initiative with a mission that began with the intention of bringing back culture to the people living on the Mississaugas of the New Credit reservation and other Indigenous peoples. The lodge also strives to educate not only Indigenous people, but all peoples who are interested in learning about Indigenous ways of knowing, of doing, of living, of history, of health and the environment. Akinomaagaye Gaamik began in response to a lack of access to cultural knowledge and teachings on her home reservation of New Credit, but stems from a twenty-five year journey of coming home to a culture that, thanks to colonialism and assimilation, was taken from her as it was from many other people on New Credit reservation.

“The lodge is all about decolonizing. Learn our language, our history, so we can defend our grandfathers and grandmothers. Learn how to live a good life. The big philosophy and principles in Anishinaabe is to live a good life. We have laws that say this is what you do to live a good life. You be honest, be kind, you share, you be loving. You incorporate this into your life. It’s not a poster on the wall called seven grandfathers, its something inside your being that says this is how to conduct yourself, to be a good human while you’re here. The other big piece of that was bringing Creator. Nowhere in that western way did they bring in Creation as that ultimate teacher.”

New Credit reservation is a small reservation, and in Nancy’s words is “about 5 concessions big, it’s not much land at all. There’s no water here either.” Located in a far corner of it’s neighbour reservation, Six Nations, the Mississaugas of the Credit have lived on this reservation since 1847. When speaking on the reasons why Akinomaagaye Gaamik was built, Nancy told the story of Rita Montour, a woman from her reservation who was nearing a hundred years old before she passed. Nancy said, “Rita, did you ever go to a traditional funeral? Did you ever hear Anishinaabemowin? I was asking her all these questions because she’s a hundred years old, and she can tap another 100 years through her grandmother and great grandmother. And we moved here in 1847, so her memory could go back that far. And she said she had never witnessed any kind of ceremonies here at New Credit.” She explains how there are two lodges built, one that was built eighteen years ago in the form of a large, stretched out tipi in which ceremonies are often held, and the other a wooden roundhouse, and that these lodges,  together, bring culture and knowledge that has “never been seen here on New Credit.”

Nancy Rowe decided to do something about this lack of cultural knowledge on her home reservation. Six years ago, Nancy, her husband and other collaborators built the lodge with the intention of attracting Elders of the highest caliber to New Credit in order to provide a direct knowledge transfer between the Elders and those who came to learn. “People were so excited for the lodge they would come and work for food. I would cook all day and the carpenters would build all day. We started in February and had it [the lodge] up and operational by April.”

Akinomaagaye Gaamik attracts many different people— from young school children to deputy ministers from the Government— all seeking to learn more about Anishinaabe ways of life, of seeing, of doing. The lodge hosts programming such as cultural workshops, Moccasin project workshops, and traditional ceremonies. Nancy says, “With permission from elders I share a little culture with them [settlers], not to make them Anishinaabe but to show them just how intelligent Anishinaabe is … We have been working to really position Indigenous knowledge at a higher level.” According to her, education revitalizes ceremonies, and the lodge “gives people exposure to this other world … people call it ceremonies, but it really is education.”

When asked what other kinds of work needs to be done in order for Indigenous people to heal from colonization, Nancy stressed the importance of education being brought to Indigenous people once again. “When I was done my degree with poli-sci, I was pissed, man … I have spent 48 years living under colonial rule. I’m a card carrying Indian, every day of my life is determined by Indian affairs, so I was mad … My teachings say you can’t stay angry, you’ll get sick.”

“If 99% of them [canadians] are ignorant to our issues, I want to bring them out of that [ignorance]. I didn’t want to be aggressive and say hey you’re a colonizer, did you know? You’re reaping the benefits of my land that my grandfathers shared with you. My strategy was I’m gonna teach them the truth … There’s an entire body of people here, suffering.”

Nancy Rowe is also one of the founders of the Da-Giiwewaat (So They Can Go Home) Moccasin project, which seeks to “bring attention to the contemporary genocide that’s happening right now in this country”. Nancy is referring to the canadian child welfare system, and how nationwide the child welfare system disproportionately targets Indigenous families. She says, “The operating policy of the government of canada is genocidal. They still wanna get rid of the Indian … They are after the bigger picture, which is the land.” She then references the statistics in Manitoba which show that 11,000 children are currently in care, and 90% of these children are Indigenous, or statistics such as the one that says forty Indigenous babies are taken from Manitoba hospitals each month. She explains that when one reads these statistics and analyzes the way the system is structured, one realizes quickly that “Indigenous children in the welfare system are basic income units, they keep that ministry operating.”

“I don’t want child welfare to be like residential school. Residential schools operated for 175 years. Child welfare has been around since 1945.” she explains. The destructive, oppressive nature of the child welfare system is what lead Nancy, along with other Indigenous women like Colinda Clyne, to start the Moccasin project. Nancy’s idea was that if Indigenous children in the foster care system were gifted baby moccasins as something to take with them on their journey through foster care, that when they grew older they could begin to question why they had these moccasins, and that this curiosity could spark their journey home. Thus came the name, Da-Giiwewaat, So They Can Go Home. In foster care, very few Indigenous children are able to retain their culture, as it is a system likened to the residential schools, and is a continuation of the Sixties Scoop, seeking to severe the ties Indigenous children have with their culture, their traditional ways of knowing, their language, their land, and their family.

The Moccasin Project, like Akinomaagaye Gaamik, is a shining example of what true action towards reconciliation can look like. Nancy says that the project works closely with educators who seek to highlight the issues of the canadian child welfare system by bringing Moccasin making workshops to classrooms and even to entire schools across the country. The project also fosters new relationships with community based organizations who wish to also support the project, such as friendship centers or community health programs. “It’s doing what it was intended to do, which was raise awareness for child welfare,” says Nancy, who made a promise to Cora Morgan, a First Nations Family Advocate from Manitoba who showed Nancy the grim statistics from Manitoba, that “wherever I go, I’ll talk about this”.

The final question asked of Nancy was on what futures and possibilities she saw for healing in the wake of colonialism, to which she stressed the utmost importance of Indigenous people learning their language and culture. “We can’t even understand our own world yet without our language.” To Nancy, true reconciliation means “putting back what was taken. Period.”

“Everything was taken from us. Our land, our culture, our language. In education, the job of educators and the system is to create opportunity for native children to access their culture and language … Those priests and nuns didn’t have any pity when they were taking that language from our children. We should have no limitations on how much it is gonna take to put that back.”

The importance of education plays a big role in true decolonization and reconciliation according to Nancy, who says, “If one child in the whole school wants to learn their language, then we must do whatever it takes for them to learn.” Assisting each and every individual Indigenous youth is where the role of educators and of the school system appears, and Nancy says that educators should do everything in their power to fully support Indigenous children on their journey home to their culture.

Through her impressive work throughout her own 25 year long journey home, Nancy exemplifies the actions that are necessary to begin the journey of decolonization and reconciliation on Turtle Island. Akinomaagaye Gaamik, the Da-Giiwewaat project, and her own personal convictions and actions are what is desperately needed across the continent to achieve these goals of decolonization and reconciliation to birth a healing legacy. She says of reconciliation, “I really do not see the level of reconciliation that we are going to require in order to put things back to the way they were”. To put things back to the way they were is to heal the traumas, to bring back as much knowledge as possible that has been lost over the centuries, to support future Indigenous generations by building the structures that will be necessary to help each and every individual Indigenous person on this long journey home to their land, language, culture and self- all of which the work Nancy has accomplished has assisted. “Put it back the way it was- that’s reconciliation. Put it right.”

Giidaakunadaad (The Spirit Who Lives in High Places) n’dizhinikaaz (is my name): Nancy Rowe is a Mississauga, Ojibwe of the Anishinaabek Nation located at New Credit First Nation, ON. Nancy holds an honors BA in Indigenous Studies and Political Science. She is an educator, consultant and a Traditional Practitioner of Anishinaabek lifeway’s, views and customary practices and is currently completing a Master’s degree of Environmental Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Xicohtencatl Maher is a 2spirited Tlaxcaltecan Nahua and Newfie, born in Mexico and living currently on Anishinaabek territory. He is an activist, artist, writer, escuincle and shit-disturber, and in his free time enjoys mixed martial arts and going out on the land.

A Letter to Governor Dayton

by Winona LaDuke

The year is 2015, but colonialism is alive and well in the Great Lakes region, and so is Anishinaabe resistance. In addition to the state’s profound mismanagement of our natural resources, we now face multiple new crude oil pipelines and non-ferrous metal mines proposed in the heart of our territory, endangering our sacred waters, our manoomin (wild rice), and our survival. But our movement to protect our Mother Earth is powerful and growing fast. One arm of the resistance is an effort to affirm our federally-protected hunting and gathering rights in ceded territory. In August, Anishinaabe ricers took to the lakes en masse to harvest without permits, exercising rights guaranteed in the 1855 Treaty, but consistently violated.   

September 3rd, 2015

Dear Governor Dayton

We would like to eat. Our people have been jailed for snaring rabbits, hunting and lost our boats and nets. It is time to evolve our relationship with the state. This last week, your Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to issue some citations to Ojibwe people for ricing on Hole-in-the-Day Lake. That is, after the cameras were gone.The officers went out to track down Morningstar and Harvey Goodsky citing them for harvesting wild rice off the reservation, without state permission. Sort of like “poaching wild rice.” This is out of line. Let me do my best to explain why.

When my ancestors signed the treaty of 1855, Anishinaabe Akiing, our land, was in good shape. We could all drink the water from these lakes; wild rice was throughout our territory; fish, moose and wolves were abundant; and the maple trees were in their glory. That treaty was with the US government, and somehow you are now managing the assets of the 1855 treaty, or most of them. You are failing to care for what we love.

This is what I see. Some ninety percent of the wetlands have been drained. The western third of Minnesota, including the 1855 treaty territory, was once covered with wetlands. Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions of dollars annually, the state is still losing more than it restores. Fish: Well, these days a pregnant woman or a child can eat only one meal a month of a walleye (under two feet), bass, catfish or northern, none of the larger ones. Coal fired generation causes that. The rest of us can eat once a week, before we have to worry about methyl mercury poisoning. Wow.

Now your fisheries department has managed to crash the Mille Lacs fishery. Let me remind you that the Mille Lacs band did not do that, and has volunteered to forgo tribal harvest for next year. This crash resulted from the folly of your politics and the 2006 decision to increase the limit, despite scientific and tribal expertise which set the limit at 350 000 pounds. Minnesota fishery staff secured a legislative approval for 550 000 pounds. Nice work. The walleye population in 2014 was its lowest in thirty years. And, many of your lakes are dying from agricultural runoff and invasive species.

Anishinaabeg people have always lived with the moose and the wolf. You have allowed their destruction by corporate and special interests driven myopic management policies. Let me be clear: In July of 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth filed a request to list the Moose as endangered. In just ten years time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9 000 to as few as 3 500. Why? Habitat destruction caused by mining and logging industries and over harvesting. Now, scientists agree that the greatest threat which could virtually eliminate moose from Minnesota within five years stems from climate change. Yet the state continues to forward a fossil fuels based energy policy, from dirty oil pipelines, to a “clean energy plan” which uses coal gasification as a centerpiece of stupidity.

Frankly, your forest management policies alone could have almost wiped out the moose. A 2006 study found that six of the twelve known wildlife corridors in the Mesabi Iron Range will likely become isolated,fragmented, or lost completely, and almost 9 000 acres of habitat will likely be destroyed. That’s what new logging and mining projects will do to the moose.

Minnesota has made a mockery of stewardship and respect by failing to understand the nature of the wolf in the north and the centrality of the wolf to Anishinaabeg people. In 2014, DNR announced an increase in wolf hunting permits: 3 800 hunting and trapping licenses available for the coming season, up from 3 500 last year, allowing up to 250 wolves to be killed before the season closed. This forced federal court action, but also forced the Ojibwe tribes to declare wolf sanctuaries on our reservations and push for the same in our treaty territories.

You have cost us many of our trees. Our chief Wabunoquod spoke of how the great pines had been stolen from our people, and cried at the loss, as they were our ancestors. The maple basswood forest system is in serious decline, and many of our most productive maple sugarbush areas in the 1855 treaty territory have been cut, without regard for us. This leaves families without food and sugar.

Now you come for the wild rice. You have cost us fifty percent of the manoomin in the north. Let us be clear, this is the only grain indigenous to North America and is far more nutritious than GMO crops. Yet dam projects destroy our precious food, and now the state intends to weaken sulfate standards which protect our waters and wild rice so that you can open up mining in the north for Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests.

Then there’s the baffling pipelines – four of them – through our best wild rice territories, all pushing through the entirely dysfunctional system of the Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission which will not even speak formally with tribal governments.Please explain to me again, why our people should be arrested for harvesting wild rice? The state has shown no regard for the north. We would like to eat and continue the life we were given by the Creator.

Winona LaDuke

Executive Director of Honor the Earth


Winona Laduke
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned Anishinaabe author, orator and activist working on issues of renewable energy, food sovereignty, indigenous economics, and human rights.  She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two-time US Vice Presidential candidate. She is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based nonprofit organizations in the country, and has received a long

list of awards and accolades, including membership in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity. In her current role as Executive Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on issues of environmental justice in indigenous communities and a graceful transition to a just, green, post-fossil fuel economy.