MANOOMIN: Giving Thanks for Indigenous Foods

Freshly harvested Zizania palustis, also known as wild rice.

I love wild rice. It’s delicious. I grew up eating it at Thanksgiving and for other special occasions, with turkey or made into soup or pilaf. I also like the fact that wild rice, called manoomin by the Ojibwe, is grown in the lakes and rivers of Minnesota where I grew up. We’d buy local wild rice at Mille Lacs Trading Post after it had been harvested by canoe and parched with wood smoke.

Manoomin and white rice are both seeds of aquatic grasses, yet wild rice is a different species of grain than white rice and has its own distinct, nutty flavor. It is just as easy to cook as rice, if not easier, and has more protein and other nutrients than “regular” rice.

Darkest rice on the right is farm cultivated. The raw, traditionally harvested manoomin is on the left and the fluffy, cooked version is at the top.

I bought my last wild rice from Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota, online at Bineshii Wild Rice & Goods. The White Earth Nation also sells their food and gifts online. It is easy to find black, shiny, commercial wild rice in grocery stores, cultivated on farms in California and Minnesota, but I prefer the hand harvested variety. Heid Erdrich quotes an Ojibwe (Anishinaabeg) statement about the sacredness of indigenous food in her book, Original Local: “As Anishinaabeg, we have a duty and responsibility to protect our manoomin. It is part of our interconnectedness to the Four Orders of Life and in accordance with the original instructions given to us by Gichi-Manidoo (the Creator).”

Preserving what is healthy, harmonious, and beautiful is to be celebrated on this day, October 12, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Euro-Americans like me have a history of squandering the natural resources that were enhanced, honored, and protected by First Nations people for thousands of years before we got to North America. We benefited from Indigenous Peoples’ efforts, at great cost to them, displacing them from their homes. As I enjoy my hearty cornbread, spicy beans, and delicate wild rice today, I wonder how far the tables have turned.

Louise Erdrich, who is Anishinaabe, wrote, “Every Native American is a survivor, an anomaly, a surprise on earth. We were all slated for extinction before the march of progress. But, surprise, we are progress.” Sometimes looking back is the best way to move forward. We may have missed some lessons along the way. We thought we invited the First Nations to our tables, but, in truth, we’ve been dining from theirs since first contact. It may be too late to recover the bounty of the land and the water, but it is never too late to learn from others and from the land itself. For instance, I can savor indigenous foods with appreciation and awareness of their origins, and treat the foods and their sources with respect.

Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” It is a relationship to be fostered.

Manoomin in the wild.

4 thoughts on “MANOOMIN: Giving Thanks for Indigenous Foods

  1. andy2015uk

    Barbara, this piece, like your others, leaves me with something. Although I am finished reading it, I’m still feeling something from it. Tomorrow’s meals will be richer for reading this and I would very much like to order this wild rice from the source you mention. Thank you again for revealing connections amongst us all.
    Mickey

    Reply
  2. Susan Habel

    Another great post, Barbara. The wild rice in the wild is a truly beautiful plant. I’d like to ty it, too. Thank you for the reference and for sharing again the wisdom of Robin Wall Kimmerer.
    Susan

    Reply
  3. Joan W Prefontaine

    Great post. Paul and I tried wild ricing one year, precariously standing up in a canoe (dressed in protective raingear, gloves and hat), using a special pole to try to knock rice grains off the stalks into the bow of the canoe while the other person paddled. Sad to say, much of the rice fell into the water! The small lake where we had that experience (known as Rice Lake, I believe) can now only be harvested by indigenous people, from what I hear. There is an art to hand harvesting, and, as you point out, it results in a higher quality rice. I appreciate your posting places where such rice (harvested by indigenous people) can be purchased.

    Some info I found online: Wild rice may only be harvested from any navigable waters: in boats that are no longer than 17 feet and no wider than 38 inches; in boats that are only propelled by muscle power using a push-pole or canoe paddle; with smooth, rounded, wooden rods or sticks that are not longer than 38 inches.

    Reply
  4. Betsy Fuchs

    You have “sold” me on trying Manoomin. Bineshii Wild Rice & Goods has a 4-pack where I can get 4 different varieties. Will order and expand my very limited (my choice) menu options. I’ll report back on what I’m sure will be some wonderful tasty-healthy meals.

    Reply

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