HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – The Keweenaw Wild Ones are hosting a Zoom webinar by Kathleen Smith, “Manoomin (Wild Rice) Stewardship,” at 6 p.m. Monday, March 28. The talk is free. To register, go to keweenaw.wildones.org.

Smith is the Gaa ganawendang Manoomin, or “She who takes care of the wild rice,” a newly created position within the Division of Biological Services of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). In her half-hour talk, she will give an overview of GLIFWC and discuss the cultural significance and ecology of wild rice, as well as how it is monitored and harvested. Smith will also speak on outreach education programs, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community rice camp, which anyone can attend.

We spoke with Smith ahead of Monday’s talk to learn more about the importance of Manoomin.

“It is very important, especially with the food security issues that have come about now. And even with climate change, we are becoming more aware of our natural gifts that are given to us because, with the pandemic that came upon us, a lot of people have returned back to the land. I wish there was more of an education outreach to help people understand that the connection to the land is so important because that’s where a lot of our Mashkiki, the foods and the medicines come from, you know, even our food is medicine.” Smith continued,” It’s just a really big issue, with our people right now and to be able to return back to that or to gently remind us, that’s where our food system comes from, is to be able to go out and exercise our treaties to be able to go and hunt and gather and, and fish in our lands.”

Smith said the cultural significance has a place in their cultural history and stories.

“We actually have a migration story that started from the Atlantic Ocean from the east that came through the St. Lawrence River. So it was about a 1500 year time frame, where there’s a prophecy to go where the food grows on the water, so I won’t get too much more into that. So our people transitioned over to the west here to look for where the food grows onto the water.” Smith continued, Where we come to in this area from throughout Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, that’s where our people have come to rest in to go where the food grows on the water. And the journey actually ended on Madeline Island, That’s really a significant place for the Anishinabeg people and that’s where a lot of our treaties were signed.”

One point Smith emphasized in the relationship with wild rice and food was gratitude.

“Yes, so first of all, we must, you know, express much gratitude for these beautiful gifts and have that reciprocal relationship because once we asked for that Spirit to give themselves up, that energy to sustain our lives as we know it, even water waters ties everything together. And so you know, we must continue that and to continue to educate and gently remind our people, all people to, you know, really look back on where all of our ancestors have come from. So we can have these resources for the next seven generations.”

Smith said another way they are preserving cultural traditions are through events like the Manoomin Camp at Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. She said anyone can join. You can also go to glifwc.org for more educational information.