Part of tribal identity, Great Lakes wild rice threatened by climate change

ODANAH, WIS. – Edith Leoso sat in the bow of a metal, flat-bottomed research vessel slowly making its way toward Lake Superior and recalled family memories of places along the Kakagon River Slough as the boat eased by.

“The manoomin here has taken care of us. For an area that’s economically oppressed, we have relied on the land and the water to feed our families. I mean, I know several times that’s all we ate was deer meat and wild rice,” she said.

“We had a garden, and we had our own potatoes … I don’t remember my grandma ever saying, ‘I got to go to the grocery store.’”

Leoso is the historic preservation officer for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, keepers of the largest and last remaining extensive coastal wild rice beds in not only the Great Lakes, but the world.

“There’s a lot that has to happen for the manoomin to grow,” she said during a late June 2022 boat tour through the famed wild rice beds.

“Only recently with climate change have we had to do some re-seeding.”

Manoomin is the word for wild rice in Anishinaabemowin, the Native language of the Anishinaabeg peoples of the Great Lakes – such as the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi tribes of Michigan.Wild rice grows in the most pristine waters in Michigan and Upper Great Lakes region, but only under certain conditions. The species remains susceptible to damage across its life cycle.In Michigan, Native tribes increased efforts in recent years to restore manoomin […]

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