Environment Picture

What we learned at Rice Camp in the farthest reaches of Michigan’s U.P.

Stewardship Network embraces native wild rice as key cultural, ecological tool
Until a year and a half ago, I had no idea there was a type of rice that grows natively in Michigan. That’s when Roger Labine, a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, responded to our request for grant partnerships for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

As it turns out, manoomin, the Ojibwe name for this wild rice, has a long and important cultural history in Michigan.

Wild rice also provides habitat and food for a wide range of animals and benefits water quality through its ability to bind loose soils, tie up nutrients, and act as a buffer by slowing winds across shallow wetlands (http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com/ecological-importance.html).

The history of wild rice in Michigan is a fascinating thread in the tapestry of our connection to the natural resources that define our state.

For Stewardship Network Executive Director Lisa Brush and I, our history with wild rice had a troubled beginning. As part of our grant, we traveled to Lac Vieux Desert—on the far western border of the Upper Peninsula—to attend Rice Camp last September.

We promptly missed our flight—getting stuck in rush hour traffic, just missing the time to check bags, trying to take all of our camping equipment through security as “carry-ons,” and (nail in the coffin) getting held up there because a jar of peanut butter buried in one of our bags was considered a “liquid.”

The next day, we made it up to the U.P. successfully and finally got to meet Roger Labine and George Beck with the Lac Vieux Desert Band, as well as Jason Carlson and Carl Christopher with Applied Ecological Services.

Roger and George hold and share the historical, cultural and on-the-ground knowledge behind manoomin and how to restore it. Over the three days Lisa and I were at camp, they taught us and other participants all about harvesting and processing wild rice—from the significance of the wood used to make the tools, to the traditional methods of harvesting and processing the rice.

While we were on the ground, Jason and Carl were in the air. They flew a Diamond Twinstar plane back and forth at a low altitude, using a multi-spectral camera attached to the underside of the plane to take high-resolution imagery of lakes in the area. These images are being used to help assess the state of known rice beds, find previously undocumented beds and find sites that have the potential to start new beds.

Along with the mapping and restoration efforts, grant funding will also be used to hold more Rice Camps throughout this year and next. Camps will focus on how to harvest birch bark and make baskets (used for processing), how to make push poles and knockers (used for harvesting), how to tan leather and make moccasins (used for processing), and more. Check our website (www.stewardshipnetwork.org) soon for more details on camp dates and locations, which may range from mid-Michigan to the U.P.
-Erin Mittendorf, The Stewardship Network
RELATED TOPICS: conservation
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved