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Behold, resilience: Heidi's reflections on Manoominikewin (ricing/rice harvesting and processing

This blog post is written by Aging Activisms research team member Heidi Burns. Heidi is an MA candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. Her MA research centres on the connections between Manoomin (Wild Rice) gathering to inter-generational relationships, community relationships and well-being over life course. Out of a love for all things living she hopes through the collaborative community based project to better learn about the historical and contemporary ties with the local food medicine Manoomin, and to identify opportunities to support ongoing ecological restoration work led by First Nations community members that bring youth and elders together. In this blog post, she reflects on her learnings around Manoominikewin (ricing/rice harvesting and processing).

Photos from Heidi Burns

Manoomin gathering is an ancient tradition that brings all generations of Anishinaabek and guests from all around the Great Lakes region together each year. Manoominikewin (ricing/rice harvesting and processing) takes place during Mnoomnii-giizis (the grain moon), roughly from the end of August through to middle-end of September, and processing may go a little later into the fall. Manoomin, more widely known and called by it’s colonial name: wild rice, is an important part of the Anishinaabe creation story and is among the oldest and most sacred traditional foods of Anishanaabe peoples in the Great Lakes region and Boreal Forest regions of Northern Ontario. While thought of as a rice, Manoomin is more like an aquatic grain or seed and it has been central to the spiritual, cultural, physical and socio-economic wellbeing for Michi Saagiig Annishinaabek for millennia.

Local histories show Manoomin was a food that was traded widely between Anishinaabek and settlers in the region. Some do not readily accept Manoomin as an exceptional food source that should be respected as an integral and beneficial part of the eco-system. This devaluing is linked to the failure of the Canadian settler state to honour treaty, the deliberate erasure of Indigenous knowledges and local oral histories in academic programs and the Canadian state’s inadequate acknowledgement of Canada’s settler colonial history. At the same time, youth in Canada who descend from other parts of the world are not well supported in maintaining ties to the lands of their own ancestors. In my experiences, however, the greater majority of people I talk with are excited when they learn about Manoomin and keen to support its restoration and harvesting, especially at harvest time when youth, elders, First Nations, and settlers alike can come together through our shared connections to land and water.

Photos from Heidi Burns

The lock and dam system that makes up the Trent Severn Waterway has adversely impacted the ecology of the Lakes and Rivers in the traditional Anishinaabek, which is covered by Treaty 20 and the Williams Treaties. Though, the over development of cottages, houses, resorts etc. along the waterway, the pollution caused by the recreational use of the lakes and rivers and the run off of fertilizers, invasive species, along with the permitted not permitted removal of Manoomin plants from the waterways, has greatly damaged Manoomin stands over the last century.

Behold, resilience! In recent years, despite these adverse ecological impacts, Manoomin has begun to reappear in parts of the waterway where it traditionally grew. For the first time in nearly 50 years, Alderville Knowledge Holders and longtime ecological restoration activists Jeff and Rick Beaver harvested Manoomin from Rice Lake. First Nations community members, notably Curve Lake Knowledge Holder James Whetung and in recent years his daughter Daemin, have worked tirelessly for decades to revive Manoomin in the waterway and to teach others in the community about it. Thanks to this restoration work and immense support from a vibrant group of food sovereignty movers-and-shakers (for example check out local food co-op headed up by Paula Anderson who operates, the Nogojiwanong/Peterborough community has growing access to healthier and more ecologically conscious food sources like Manoomin.

The stigmatization of and interference with Indigenous economies continue to have devastating impacts on Indigenous peoples and the environment (echoing struggles to sustain Manoomin, see Angry Inuk for discussions of Inuit seal harvesting as a sustainable and stigmatized food). Intergenerational relations which occur around Manoomin harvesting time are interconnected with cultural resurgence and Indigenous ecological intelligence that is passed on to younger generations. Harvesting time brings youth and elders together, it is an important time central to food sovereignty and wellness today and for generations to come.

Photos from Heidi Burns

We all have origins tied to land. As people of the earth and water it is not surprising many are curious and want to know how they can better learn about Manoomin and support Anishinaabek access and care taking of Manoomin in the many lakes and rivers of the Kawarthas and around the Great Lakes. On my journey I’ve learned that nurturing respectful relations and empathy, and perhaps even making a call to action, requires genuine connectedness, vulnerability and, well, work. When it comes to Manoomin, I think following the lead of those who have been on the land the longest makes the most sense. Spend time on the land and water, get to know the history, get to know the people where you live. Michi Saagiig bushcraft educator and cultural Knowledge Holder Caleb Musgrave has taught me that the easiest thing anyone can do to help is simply to learn the history and help educate fellow settlers about the historical and cultural significance of Manoomin to the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabek First Nations. I have also been taught the Anishnaabek word “Manoomin” translates to “gift from the creator.” During my time in this territory I’ve come to appreciate the good grain for the ecological, cultural, and social abundance it offers to all. It is truly a sacred gift.

This year I had the privilege to participate in Manoominikewin in Algonquin territory with all ages of community members from Ardoch First Nation, as well as in Michi Saagiig territory (where I am grateful to live and raise my family!) from Alderville, Hiawatha, and Curve Lake First Nations. Sincerest Gchi-Miigwech to all of the Knowledge Holders and Elders, and to each community. I am humbled and grateful for your generosity and looking forward to continuing on this path with my children.

Photos from Heidi Burns

For more learning check out:

Trent University Professor of Archaeology James Connolly's research of material history in the traditional Michi Saagiig territory: link one and link two

More from the student blog:
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