Timing is Everything: Indigenous Wisdom and the Protection of Manoomin


10 • Reflections

Volume 10, Issue 02
April 8, 2024

For centuries, the Ojibwe and Anishinaabe tribes have been sustaining and shaping their culture while simultaneously transforming the environment in northern Minnesota around one grain: manoomin.

Currently, there are several threats to the ecosystem which support the growth of manoomin. Climate change, invasive species proliferation, and a nickel mine proposed ten miles from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community are the main factors which cause harm to the plant.

An Indigenous woman leader of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe community, Leanna Goose, has grown up with the tradition of wild ricing. She is a mother, a student, and an advocate for the planet – working as a Co-principal investigator for reseeding manoomin for the next seven generations. I had the opportunity to interview her about the work being done to protect the environment in northern Minnesota.

When asked what the significance of wild rice is to her, Goose responded,

    Ricing helps me stay connected to the water and to my ancestors. Long ago, the Anishinaabe resided on the East Coast by the Atlantic Ocean until our prophecies told us to move west to the place where food grows on water. So, on faith, my ancestors walked to the land of 10,000 lakes. This was no mistake; we are meant to be here … There is an Anishinaabe teaching that states if we care for the water and manoomin, they will care for us and I’m here to do that, along with my people.

She went on to talk about the Seventh-Generation Philosophy in Ojibwe culture – a concept that emphasizes long-term considerations when making immediate choices. She stated,

    In Ojibwe culture, for every [season there] was an [environmental] activity that we would be doing. Life revolved around what was going on in the world around us… . April is known as Iskigamizige-giizis, the sap boiling moon. Binaakwe-giizis, the moon of falling leaves [for October]. These cycles [are] a marker of time. Now we see our natural cycles are a bit off. The sap was running in February. [All of] the leaves were falling in August and September.
    If we were to look at the world around us and see it for all the gifts it offers to us, and if we were to think differently – to think of the next seven generations – it could help. In western culture, people spend eight hours of work [at a desk each day]. We’re burning through so many resources doing things that are not helping the next seven generations …
    We need to look to Indigenous wisdom and culture and pull that into today’s world. We need to do that now.

Goose stressed the urgency of these environmental concerns within her community. Yet, she acknowledged the concerns of her community regarding the rash solutions that the United States government is making to address climate change.

    We all know that immediate action is needed in order to protect life on our planet. We all need to work together to fix the problem of climate change. We can start by asking ourselves of our actions. [Ask yourself], “is what I’m doing going to help the next generations have a livable world.”
    The answers to climate change can be found in the world around us.
    … [the government] wants to do this energy transition from one polluting industry to another. They want to go from fossil fuels to mining, which is one of the most polluting industries in the world … that is not a true solution. 97% of nickel is underneath the reservations, or within 35 miles of one, across the United States. We’re seeing that tribes are trying to keep those minerals in the ground because we know that that is not the solution … We have to be looking into [better environmental] solutions and bring them into our world.

Even with the threats to manoomin, Goose maintained optimism for the future thanks
to the teachings from her culture,

    My dad told us when we were kids, we were to throw back a handful of rice to make sure that there was rice for the next generations. I took that teaching to the next level and throw back a day of harvest for the water, to ensure that my children have wild rice in the future … Teaching my children to do that will ensure that they know what to do when they begin to see the manoomin disappear. It will help them be resilient through climate change.
    When you take from the Earth, you are to give back.

Our conversation ended by her calling in others to help.

    The people need to think about Indigenous nations first. We are the First Nations of this country … [They] need to work towards respecting Indigenous wisdom and Indigenous homelands. That could start with prior and informed consent, that can start with thinking of the next generations, and [that starts with all of us] playing a part.

Goose’s story contains wisdom to hold with us as we make a global energy transition. It is inevitable to consume resources, but Goose’s question echoes:

    “What can we do to scale back our consumption rather than trying to fix our problems by consuming more?”

If we want to change our world, we must pause and look around, opening our eyes to continual and historical injustices unfolding in the name of consumption. Manoomin could be lost and with it, it will take a piece of cultural heritage which has been practiced for centuries. We should move forward with actions serving us not only in the here and now, but with care and attention to the well-being of our species and the planet for generations to come. We need slow satisfaction, not immediate gratification. We must slow down if we want to continue.

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