Fond du Lac Band restores wild rice in Minnesota

His canoe almost completely hidden in wild rice, Bruce Martineau poles to the shore of Deadfish Lake on the Fond du Lac reservation in northeast Minn. on Sept. 5. In the late 1990s, the Fond du Lac Band began experimenting to try to make the rice grow like it used to. At Deadfish Lake, they put in a holding pond above the lake and a water control structure at the outlet. The lake is now a reliable source of wild rice. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An American Indian tribe is working to restore wild rice to five eastern Minnesota lakes.

The work is being done by The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The band is trying to mimic the hydrology that existed in reservation lakes before it was disrupted by canals, Minnesota Public Radio reported .

The government built the canals in the early 1900s in hopes of draining the land for farming, but the change caused some areas to stop regularly producing rice. The band began working in the late 1990s to make the rice grow again.

“And that’s really seemed to work. Now, what we see, for the last 20 years, rice is essentially here almost every year,” said Thomas Howes, the band’s natural resources manager.

The band has put in a holding pond above Deadfish Lake and a water control structure to mimic the area’s hydrology before the canals.

“We keep it reserved for elder ricers for the first couple weeks of the year because of its ease of access, but also because now it’s a reliable producer of wild rice,” Howes said.

Other lakes needed to be cleared of aquatic vegetation that was crowding the rice. They were then reseeded with wild rice. The band maintains about 900 acres of wild rice habitat.

Wild rice holds special cultural significance to the Ojibwe bands.

“We came here from the East Coast of the U.S., and were told we’d find our permanent home when we found this wild rice, this ‘manoomin,’ this food, that grows out of the water,” said Howes. “And that’s held to be true.”

Bruce Martineau, 20, harvested rice from Deadfish Lake with his father, Francis Martineau, in early September. Bruce Martineau said his grandfather taught him how to harvest rice five years ago.

“It’s my culture,” Bruce Martineau. “Natives have done it since the beginning of time.” He said he hopes to sell the rice to restaurants, but also plans to give some away. “God gives this, so it’s only right to give it back,” he said. “Give it to other people that can’t go out there.”