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:

 www.blackduckwildrice.net 


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.

Climate Change, Racial Justice and Community Sustainability

Front cover of "A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living" by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

A review of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez 

By Lue Boileau 

At this moment, I hope that many of us are considering the future of our communities as we prepare for progressive climate change; to both prevent a worst-case scenario and to adapt to what is already in progress. In any climate change scenario, either the worst or best case projection, it is clear that we must radically shift our way of living towards sustainable communities.  It is also essential that we connect food justice and racial justice to our ideas of sustainability. It is urgent that we come to define climate change as a racial issue, as our communities both here and abroad experience the most unhinged destruction, neglect, and exploitation. Most importantly, we must support and follow the lead of Indigenous communities around the world, who invented sustainability and who continuously experience state violence for this work.

I  recently had the opportunity to hear New York based Food Justice advocate and founder of the Black Urban Growers Conference, Karen Washington, speak on achieving food justice and Black food sovereignty. She raised the critical point that true food justice must disrupt and contradict the current food system; a system that relies heavily on the free labour and exploitation of mainly Black, Brown and Indigenous communities through colonialism, agricultural prison labour, and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program. 

As Karen illustrated, any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community. We must achieve food sovereignty that is, of course, independent of government or corporate funding and non-profit intervention. This must be achievable in urban and rural settings. 

In their introductory statements, the authors of A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, define radical sustainability and the key principle of autonomous community development as “…systems that give control over basic resources to the people using them, increasing community self-reliance and aiding resistance to resource monopolies. Design criteria include; affordability; use of salvaged materials; simplicity; user serviceability; ease of replication; decentralization …. All of these criteria lead to systems being replicable. Replicable systems are capable of being transferred and adapted to other communities and locations without significant redesign” (xiv – xv). This demands a swift break from the non-profit model of community intervention. 


“Any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community.”


A great example of autonomous development is the North Philly Peace Park (NPPP) in Philadelphia which grows food in what was an abandoned lot, without the permission of the city.  NPPP also includes a STEM education program on the site, with the support of retired science and math teachers from the community. NPPP is an example of a  Black-led project, utilizing skills and salvaged materials from the community to create food and education autonomy.

As we create these alternative systems, radical sustainability must mean recognizing “the inseparability of ecological and social issues and the necessity of ensuring the solution to one problem does not create or worsen another” (xiii). As we try to create sustainable communities, we must be careful not to replicate resource hierarchies and disempowerment. A conversation on building functional communities that include rehabilitative justice and intergenerational relationships are equally important to achieving sustainability and one that we should engage in, in parallel with creating food sustainable systems. 

However, what I would like to offer here is a brief review and introduction to the hard skills offered in A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, co-authored by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, in regards to urban sustainability and food production. 

To be honest, I found this book on my shelf buried under hundreds of other books. As I found out, it was given to my roommate as a gift in 2008. Over ten years later, it contains blueprints to significant skills we need to survive and create self-sustaining, food sovereign communities, making the most of urban infrastructure. 

“The key to establishing community food security”, the Toolbox tells us “is to have food coming from multiple and diverse sources. Urban farms and gardens can grow a considerable amount of vegetables while fruit and nut trees in parks, can provide a foragable community crop. Fire escapes can be home to mushroom logs and trellising vegetables. Neighbourhood microlivestock collectives can be formed, with members sharing responsibility and benefits – cleaning the coop, feeding and watering the animals and collecting the eggs. Interlocking backyards make ideal locations for collective microlivestock operations and expanded bird runs. Local aquaculture specialists can offer fresh, locally [raised] fish” (60).      

The challenges of food production in urban settings are the lack of space, the amount of land that is locked under concrete and pavement in need of rejuvenation, and the lack of natural sunlight due to building density.  The techniques covered in A Toolbox are those that are best suited to urban settings, but have been less covered in gardening and food production resources. The authors do not include information on basic gardening techniques, seed saving or cooking which as they mention, have been covered in many other valuable books. 

Non- Plant Based Foods 

In regards to non-plant based food, the key is to concentrate our energies on livestock that do not require large amounts of feed. Small birds and mammals are efficient at converting feed protein to body mass, are a convenient size for urban space and can also be helpful in the garden!  We review a number of different options for small mammal or microlivestock, the most common are chickens which can be kept in coops or free run with the use of roosts. Roosts can be built with metal sheeting wrapped securely around trees or poles to prevent predators such as racoons from climbing up them. Vegetable scraps, cultivated insects, vermicompost worms and spent barley hulls all make excellent chicken feed which supports a zero-waste system. Free run chickens will also eat unwanted insects in the garden with minimal damage and their droppings provide excellent fertilizer. There are many innovations for managing free-run and roosting chickens. The authors review a number of other options for fowl, including turkeys, ducks (great at purging slugs), guinea hens, etc. but in any species suggest selecting breeds that are less domesticated and hardier especially for adverse weather such as the Rhode Island Red (chicken). In terms of mammals, the Toolbox provides a reasonable guide on keeping rabbits, and guinea pigs which are also space efficient and like fowl, can be raised in a collective in adjoining backyards.  Rabbits in particular provide especially rich fertilizer through their droppings. We must always be thinking in terms of creating sustainable ecosystems and symbiotic relationships for both plant and animal life. 

Edible Forests and Mushroom Cultivation

I love the idea of edible forests; creating self-sustaining food sources from perennial trees and vegetation, or a combination of perennials and annuals. When selecting tree species, the authors note that it is important to know if you are selecting a self-pollinating species or if more than one tree will be required for pollination. Trellis structures may be built around the edible forest for fruits like grapes, and vegetables like pole beans, squash, and cucumbers that take well to trellising. The authors provide an excellent guide to planting trees, understanding soil quality and the varieties of fruit and nut trees that you might select for an edible forest. 

An underutilized method, and one that suits urban infrastructure very well, is mushroom cultivation. The method that is detailed is log cultivation using mushroom plugs or plug spawn. Both medicinal and edible mushrooms are covered in the guide, as well as an understanding of what kind of tree species and log to select, how and when to harvest mushrooms. 

Inside look of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez

Waterways and Aquaculture 

As we begin to experience freshwater drought and the continuous contamination of waterways, a knowledge of aquaculture will be particularly important. And for those of us who love and eat fish and wish to do so responsibly, we can cultivate a fascinating and intimate understanding of freshwater aquatic ecosystems and how to maintain them. Many people have heard of aquaponics, but it wasn’t until I read a Toolbox that I understood what an intricate and graceful system it can be. The authors also provide a guide to creating passive pond systems. This knowledge is extremely valuable. However, for my own reasons, I am going to focus on the recirculating aquaponic system, that is built using four 55 gallon barrels each containing its own ecosystem that supports through piping and pumped water circulation. Juan Martinez provides beautiful illustrations throughout, but this is my favourite. 

In the recirculating system, the first barrel is our biofilter. It is filled with plants emerging from the surface of the water, ‘like catfish, bullrush and taro,’ which can be harvested and are all edible. The bottom of the barrel is filled with gravel, which is a great ecosystem for ‘water-purifying microorganisms.’ The second barrel contains the fish. It is very important to pay attention to the guide on the fish to water ratio, to maintain healthy fish and prevent ammonia build up. Snails and rooted plants also provide an essential function to this stage. Barrels three and four are water purifiers, containing an ecosystem of submerged plants such as duckweed and water hyacinth, as well as zooplankton, crawfish, snails and microorganisms that recycle and consume the waste from the fish in the second barrel. All elements of the aquaponic system work together to maintain healthy plants, healthy fish and other organisms. 

Although vertical space food cultivation  – barrels, trellises, fire escapes, and rooftops – is a way to use the constraints of a city as a strength, we cannot neglect the land. So much soil is trapped under concrete and pavement, without exposure to oxygen, natural water cycles, plant life or healthy microorganisms. As we continue to experience flash floods, pavement and its disruption to water and soil cycles will become more of an urgent and destructive problem. The authors of a Toolbox stress the importance of releasing the land, working to increase soil health, and provide a review of a number of methods of breaking, repurposing and discarding of toxic pavement when necessary. 

In their words, “Growing food in a city is a wonderful way to build community, support local economies, and be rooted in a place” and this element of community collaboration and mutual support will be essential as we prepare for the next several decades of change. 

A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living includes several more chapters in addition to food, covering urban sustainability in water, waste, energy and a guide to bioremediation including conversations on access to land and a discussion of sustainability and gentrification. 

For readers eager for information on how to adapt to our current context, I recommend combining this reading with Deep Adaptation, A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy by Jem Bendell (an academic paper that is also available in podcast); and for Black readers, following up this work with Farming While Black by Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm.


side profile headshot of lou boileau

Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Earthships & Sovereignty

A photo of car tires filled with sand

by Kahsenniyo Williams

My family and I have spent the last year and a half of our lives dedicated building our home, asserting our sovereignty and raising the coming generation. Building our family home is massive deal for us as a young family. We aren’t building just any house though. We are building an Earthship. Not everyone has heard of them tho so let me explain a little bit more. Simply answered an Earthship is a home made from mostly recycled material that is off grid and self regulates the interior temperature. Amazing right!! There are a few key components of an Earthship so here’s a bit of a bigger explanation:


Components of an Earthship

1) Tires!!!

Lots and lots of tires! Said tires are pounded full of dirt using a sledge hammer and lots of muscles. These tires are pounded in place,stacked and layered like bricks these tires are used to build the back and side walls of the house.

2) Window Wall

The entire south facing wall of the house is windows. The reason for this is simple; heat. These windows are placed south facing to provide heat to the house through the sun. Shining low in the winter sky and high in the summer this provides perfect heating to the house.

3) Thermal Mass

Thermal Mass is anything that holds onto heat. So I’m talking things like stone, concrete and dirt. The thermal mass is packed throughout the house (dirt in tires, floors, some walls) and works in conjunction with the window wall. Sun shines in through the windows in the winter and beams in on all the thermal mass of the house to heat it up. In the winter these houses will maintain of temperature of 20 to 22 degrees Celsius (which is room temperature-ish). The entire tire wall is also cocooned in a hill of dirt to help insulate it. The house is positioned and designed to miss any direct summer sunlight coming into the house, as the sun is very high in the sky. With the sun not shining directly into the house this allows the thermal mass to maintain a cool temperature.

4) Greywater System

The entire house is run of a greywater system by collecting rainwater, and snowmelt runoff from the roof. All of the water collected from the roof is directed into a big water tank (which is buried in the giant dirt hill). When a tap is turned on in the house this is where the water comes from. Once it goes down the drain it is then directed into a grey water planter inside the house. A natural spring filtering system is recreated in the planter and the water is cleaned out through this process.This will also water our plants we will grow inside. Once it has completed the filtering it is then pumped up into a second tank. When we flush our toilet and do laundry the water will come from the second tank. This will allow us all the luxuries of running water without the wastefulness.

5) Solar energy

The entire house is run off of solar panels that are placed on the south-facing roof. It is completely possible to run your entire house off of solar electricity. For us we will be using all of the solar energy we create and not selling it back to the power company.

These houses can be a solution to many environmental issues we have today. It really is a process to come to the decision to actually do it, tho. When the reclamation of our lands boarding Caledonia began, I was 16 years-old. I felt so strongly in what my people were doing, This is where I was introduced to the concept of sovereignty. I was so angry for a long time and the potential destruction of the land was devastating to me. The theft of our lands was infuriating. These feels lingered and grew in my life for many years. All I really wanted was for my children to not have to suffer because of the decisions that we were making today. I wanted to leave something for my grand children and their grandchildren.

I spent a lot of my life asking permission to be sovereign, demanding to be recognized as sovereign. Through a series of ridiculously difficult lessons, I eventually realized I don’t have to ask for permission to be sovereign. And that sovereignty is about much more than protesting and demanding our voices be listened to. My sovereignty lives in my bones. It lives in the way that I live my life on a daily basis. It is about actually being independent from Canada, producing our own food, our own clean energy, taking care of each other, and working with the younger generations to raise them with teachings.

I had first heard about Earthships a decade ago. Since then building and living in one has been the dream. When my husband and I decided we were actually going to build, we spent roughly two years of hardcore researching and putting a game plan together. We watched countless youtube videos and read every book and article we could find. The technical design is all by my super amazing husband (who has also been an Ironworker for fourteen years and is in general a handyman). Me, on the other hand, I had never picked up a hammer in my life, other than a few attempts to put together some Ikea furniture which ended miserably. Basically me and physical labor had never really met before this experience. The thought of sweating it out pounding tires was pretty scary. However it felt that our values and daily living were not aligned, and Earthships seemed to be a significant way to bring those two things together.

A great thing about Earthships is that there isn’t a ton of skilled labor involved. If you can swing a sledgehammer or use a shovel you can help build. Our children have been a huge part of the building process. They pound tires, fill buckets, grab tools and help out anywhere they can. We have discussed regularly throughout the process about why we are doing what we are doing. We want to raise them with a connection to their land, food, water and community. We want to show them that it is possible to live your life and walk gently.


 

Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo is from the Mohawk Nation, Wolf clan. She is a spoken word poet and writer. Her work is centered around indigenous issues. Outside of being an artist she is a mother and wife. Together with her family she is currently building an Earthship and community/family farm on Six Nations.

Earth Workers, Not Farmers

illustration of cotton

by Hunter Cascagnette 

Today, small scale commercial farming and agriculture are seen as noble and romantic occupations. But farming across Kanata (Canada) continues to be another form of occupation of Indigenous lands. The rural Canadian landscape is dominated by European settler farmers. These rural farming settlements are breeding ponds for White Supremacy and, as we have recently been reminded through the acquittal of a White farmer in the murder of Cree youth, Colten Boushie, a place of impunity for White farmers who act out violence on the bodies and lands of Indigenous peoples. Throughout the colonial history of these territories, farming and conventional agricultural practices have been pushed on Indigenous communities as a strategy for assimilation, cultural genocide, control and manipulation of the land.

Throughout the 1800’s Agriculture was viewed by the Canadian Government as the best solution for changing a nomadic lifestyle based on subsistence and relationships to vast territories into one that is fixed in place. First Nations people proved themselves to be very successful farmers because of their long history of stewarding these lands alongside growing and harvesting traditional foods. The success of First Nations farmers provoked the state to develop policies intended to protect the interests of settler colonial farmers. Reserve farmland was divided into small 40 acres plots. The small farm plots were created in order to promote individualism, and to continue disrupting Indigenous tribal systems. This process also informed the amount of agricultural land on reserves that would be available for surrender to the Federal government since the Canadian government considered any unused or unallocated land as open for sale or lease to the European settlers.

The 1890s brought more restrictions on farming, and new powers for Indian Agents on the reserves. The Permit System was introduced, requiring Indigenous farmers to have documentation in order to sell produce or to buy equipment. The Permit System required all First Nations to obtain a permit from an Indian agent before they could legally sell their products off-reserve. The restriction prevented Indigenous farmers from competing in the Canadian economy. Local businesses were prohibited from purchasing products from any Indigenous people who did not have a permit. Most infractions by First Nations farmers centred on the enforcement of the Pass and Permit provision in the Indian Act, which prohibited the free flow of people, goods and services to and from reserves. Native people were turned away and faced criminal prosecution if they did not have the mandatory permits or passes. The permit system did irreparable harm to the emerging initiatives of Indigenous farmers. There are cases where crops and produce rotted in the fields because permits could not be obtained.

So much of the natural state of the lands across Turtle Island has been altered through the project of removing Indigenous people and putting land into the hands of pioneer farmers. Agricultural workers have drained ancient wetlands, rivers and streams, polluted ground water with chemical pesticides, disrupted countless ecosystems including old growth forests (around the Great Lakes largely leaving only maple trees because they were seen to have monetary value), severely decreased Indigenous plant species and tree diversity, flattened land, removed massive amounts of rocks and minerals, grown monocrop vegetables and grains, stripped the earth of nutrients and microbial communities, introduced invasive European plant species, and on and on.

The Holland Marsh is a heartbreaking example of the types of violence that have been acted out on the land in the name of agriculture. Located 50 km north of Toronto, this ancient marsh land spanned over 7000 acres and drains into Cook’s Bay, part of Zhooniyaagama (Lake Simcoe). It is no coincidence that this land is known as some of the most “fertile” soil in Canada. The Holland Marsh is a shallow water basin that was once covered by part of glacial Lake Algonquin, and as the lake level dropped, the land shifted and a marsh was formed that was home to countless natural relatives. This marsh provided Indigenous people of these lands such as the Wendat, with the sustenance they needed to survive and thrive. As European settlers started to occupy the area (first through hunting and fishing which started around 1825), the fate of this ancient marsh was forever changed. Around 1900, the Bradford Mattress Factory was clearing the marsh of grasses to use as stuffing for mattresses. Then, in 1904 Dave Watson a Bradford grocer, persuaded William H. Day professor of physics at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, to explore the possibility of draining the marsh. In 1925, without any consultation with First Nations people, the project of draining the wetland began by putting in a canal and dikes 28 km long and 2 m deep around the marsh to divert the “Holland River.” Pumps were installed to control the water table within the dikes. The project was completed in 1930. Immediately afterwards, 18 Dutch families settled on the marsh which marked the beginning of an expanding agricultural community. It took about 500 years for 30cm of organic plant vegetation to accumulate over a layer of clay that lay in the marsh basin. And in only 100 years, we lost this rich, ecologically diverse and ancient wetland to the prioritization of White settlements and agricultural practices.

Another form of ongoing theft of Indigenous lands across Turtle Island that needs to be scrutinized is the “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasy. White folks who aspire to live on land either collectively with their friends, or in a nuclear family through private purchase of land in order to take up a lifestyle that is attune with nature. Living “rurally” is imagined to be more authentic and less stress inducing than the grind of urban life. Oftentimes, these folks are interested in “land based skills” and (invisibilized) traditional Indigenous practices, such as practicing herbal medicine with plants from these territories, traditional basket making, making maple syrup, harvesting wild plants and foods Native to these lands, wild crafting, harvesting and processing animals that are from these lands, and small scale farming or gardening. Although they claim to be against systems that uphold private land ownership on stolen Native lands, I see “radical” White “settler allied” queer and cis-straight folks legitimize their desire to settle on Indigenous lands in the name of “permaculture”(a holistic approach to farming inspired by Indigenous land stewardship methodologies based on synchronicities in nature) or farming, or by indulging their White saviour complex. The rhetoric often used is that if folks can use their privilege to gain access to private lands, they will be better settlers than the ones before by engaging in more ethical farming and land stewardship practices or by being committed to “sharing” or at least philosophizing about eventually returning title to the land to Indigenous people. The desire to fulfill these “back to the land” fantasies, has nothing to do with Indigenous land sovereignty. How will these ongoing forms of White entitlement and monopoly of these lands truly be different from the legacy of earlier European settlers?

The current agricultural industry across Turtle Island has been built on stolen land, and the stolen labour of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and People of Colour who have been pushed out of the contemporary rural landscapes through the projects of White Supremacy and cultural genocide. If you want to be a good ally by means of using your privilege for others to gain access to land, there are many Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour networks and collectives where you can donate money and resources to support people in self-determining how they will access lands and build their own land based community healing initiatives. More White settlers having title, control and access to Native lands is not helpful, no matter how benevolent or exceptional you might think you are. If you are a White settler who indulges “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasies, take a hard look at why you feel entitled to access even more Indigenous lands, trees, plants, medicines, waterways, traditions and land based skills.

As an insider-outsider, a mixed-race Indigenous & White person, I move through rural spaces with ease because of my White passing privilege, despite having to painfully witness all the ways that settlers continue to hold the land hostage for their profit. Over the past few years, I’ve been working to develop good relations with the settler colonial farmer community that I work wage labour in, to create space where Two Spirit people can be prioritized on land, and to engage local farmers in conversations about Indigenous histories of the territories, their treaty responsibilities and land ownership. In the lands where “Ste. Marie Among the Hurons” is a celebrated historical tourist attraction commemorating the first site of French Jesuit settlement, I am actively involved in staging a small intervention in the spirit of *returning*. Myself and another Two Spirit mixed-race Haudenosaunee earth worker steward gardens that are home to many Native plant medicines and foods. By planting traditional foods such as flint corn, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee beans, Gete Okosomin and ancient longhouse squash, Seneca sunflowers, sunroots, as well as medicine plants like sweetgrass, traditional tobacco, stinging nettle, wild bergamot, wild ginger, globe thistle, echinacea, blue flag, etc, we are bringing these relatives back to the lands where our ancestors once lived off such sustenance.

As Indigenous people trying to heal our lands, and revive our traditional diets and relationships to the land, from the ceremony of seeding to harvest, we are not farmers, we are earth workers. We work for our mother, the earth. To restore our lands, our traditional roles, treaty responsibilities, and relationships to all of our relations- so that our food/ plant medicines – and all our non-human relatives – can return and prosper; to help the earth, waters and our people to heal.

White settlers should not be profiting economically or morally from continuing to privately own and control land as they engage in the wide appropriation of Indigenous knowledges, while Native people in Kanata have title to only 0.01 percent of these lands. The maple syrup industry is a relevant example, as it trivializes and exploits our sacred cultural relationships to maple trees for the economic gain and access of White settlers. Sugar bushing has been so widely appropriated and practiced by non-Natives that it is now proudly claimed to be part of “Canadian” culture. Sugar bushing was made to be hard work for our people, now plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree in order to streamline the gathering of sap, eliminating a relationship based on intimacy and gratitude. Before the War of 1812, a prophet came to the Shawnee people. He was the brother of Tecumseh, a courageous Shawnee leader and war chief. This prophet was called Tenskwatawa, ‘The Open Door.’ He spoke of how European traders were cheating the Anishinaabeg by giving them whiskey in order rob them. Tenskwatawa attempted to curb the production of sugar making because the people were making too much of it, to the point that they were spoiling the trees by cutting them too much. This was being done so that the Anishinaabeg could sell the excess to the non-Natives in order to trade for European goods and pay off debts to settlers. The Prophet and his brother Tecumseh saw this participation in the settler economy as detrimental to Native independence and wellbeing. The brothers led a cultural revival movement to regain the sovereignty, power and access to resources. The Prophet said that the Anishinaabeg must return to the ways of the forefathers and decline any products or tools of the whiteman. The following is an excerpt of his teachings in reference to maple sugar translated to English. Part of a talk delivered at Le Maiouitonong entrance of Lake Michigan on May 4th 1807:

My Children – I made all the Trees of the forest for your use but the Maple I love best because it yields sugar for your little ones. You must make it only for their use, but sell none of it to the Whites. Besides by making too much you spoil the Trees and give them pain by cutting & hacking them for they have a feeling like yourselves. If you make more than is necessary for your own use you shall die & the maple will yield no more water. If a White man is starving you may sell him a very little corn or a very little sugar but it must be by measure & weight. My Children – you are indebted to the White Traders but you must pay them no more than half their credits because they have cheated you. You must pay them in skins, guns, & canoes but not in meat, corn or sugar,” Tenskwatawa urged us not to participate in the colonial, capitalist economy or to exchange the medicines of our maples, as well as other sacred life sustaining foods with European settlers.

As my father’s family goes out for our annual hunt every fall and winter, we cross through one provincial park, three designated conservation areas (held as “crown land”), and dozens of cottage properties. Being a group of both status and non-status Wiisaakodewininiwag, as soon as we set out into the bush, we are considered trespassers. It is through our hunting, trapping and fishing practices that the men in my family understand their roles and responsibilities as Wiisaakodewininiwag. Without that connection to the land, we would be vert lost. It is through our resilience as a people that we navigate through these colonial borders to keep our culture and harvesting practices alive. At this time of supposed reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadians, secure access to land for all Indigenous people (First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Status, Non-Status, Mixed Race, living on and off reserve, etc.) needs to be established. “Crown Land” (provincial park & “protected lands”) and privately owned lands held by White settlers, need to be rematriated and returned to Indigenous, Black, Latinx and POC communities and initiatives.

Updates on “Alliston” Aquifer water protection:

The existing Teedon pit quarry excavation site (site 42) in Tiny Township Ontario regularly removes gravel, sand, stone, and clay from “French’s Hill”. This is called aggregate mining. “French’s Hill” is part of the natural filtration system that cleans our local aquifer. Our local water (the “Alliston” Aquifer) has been tested as some of cleanest water in the world. By continuing to extract from French’s Hill they are weakening the natural filtration system which keeps the local aquifer so clean. Dufferin & Aggregates, an Ireland based company and division of CRH Canada, has a current water removal permit that expires mid April. Dufferin have applied for a new 10-year permit to continue to extract water for washing gravel. The company seeks to expand their operation and obtain another permit to take 1.6 million litres per day from a well and 5.2 million litres per day from a washing pond 210 days a year. The water underneath the Teedon pit is recognized as some of the purest water in the world. The existing quarry site was operating an illegal washing pond and only obtained a permit for the pond after it was discovered. Currently, the quarry site is also being used as an asphalt and concrete transfer station. This means large piles of asphalt (bitumen product) are sitting on the land, with no barrier between the asphalt and the ground to prevent contamination of the precious groundwater below. Local residents have been complaining that the “dewatering” being carried out by Dufferin is affecting the quality of their drinking water with cloudy water coming out of the taps. There are currently “community liaison” meetings happening about the renewal of Dufferin’s water removal permit but these meetings are not open to the public. There has been little to no consultation with local First Nations and Métis communities about the permit renewal. People living in the area do not know asphalt is being stored at the site. There is strong opposition to the permit renewal from local Beausoleil First Nation community members, Williams Treaty FN community members, local Métis community members, other local Indigenous community members, and settler residents. Site 42 is a few kilometres from Site 41, where a proposal to put a landfill on top of this same water was shut down in 2009 after many Indigenous people and supporters held a camp across the road from the site in opposition to the landfill. This aquifer is connected to the Waaseyaagami-Wiikwed (Georgian Bay), and the “Wye” and “Tiny” marshes (2 of Ontario’s largest wetland marsh conservation areas). It is our responsibility to protect and defend clean fresh water and all water. Fresh water is under continual threat across Turtle Island. Locally, we will continue doing ceremony for these waters and showing up outside closed meetings. An All Nations water ceremony led by Josephine Mandamin was held on Saturday April 14th at the Site 41 location. Hundreds of Indigenous people from across Turtle Island came together in ceremony to protect these waters. If you want to donate money toward local water defence organizing contact “Anishinabe Kwewag & Supporters” or “Friends of the Waverly Uplands” (make contact with Anne Ritchie; a trusted member of the local settler allied group) on facebook.


Hunter Devyn Cascagnette is a Two Spirit (of Trans experience) mixed-race Wiisaakode/ Michif-Anishinaabe & Euro settler person. An earth worker, hunter, and musician, building towards Two Spirit centric land, food, and plant medicine sovereignty and ecological restoration in their father’s Métis homelands of southern “Muskoka”. They are the co-founder and co-coordinator of a Two Spirit led sustenance sovereignty initiative called Sacred Seeds Collective (FKA Mno Wiisini Gitigaanan),located within Dish With One Spoon and Williams Treaty territory, connected to the sacred waters of Waaseyaagami-wiikwed (Georgian Bay).