Wild Rice in Minnesota and the Great Lakes Region: A Flagship for Environmental Preservation and Indigenous Resource Sovereignty

Organization profile

Organization profile

Wild rice (manoomin, psiƞ, Zizania palustris), Minnesota’s state grain, is central to both diet and cultural identity for many Native peoples around the Great Lakes. Wild rice is sensitive to environmental stressors, and thus serves as a flagship for protecting ecosystems and indigenous resource sovereignty. Wild rice also has been a flashpoint. Minnesota recently reexamined its sulfate standard for protecting wild rice waters, and despite efforts to include tribal interests, tribes call the state’s new proposed standard an “apparent rejection of the recommendations and experience shared by the tribes” (May 2017 letter from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and Minnesota Indian Affairs Council to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency). Among their concerns is that the standard does not account for the multiple environmental variables beyond sulfate that affect wild rice. The marginalization of tribal views in policy has been ubiquitous; protecting tribal resource sovereignty requires a culturally responsible, whole ecosystem approach to environmental stewardship and is a Grand Challenge faced in Minnesota, the Great Lakes Region, and throughout the world. The project uses a collaborative approach to ensuring sustainable ecosystems—one that prioritizes tribal values, knowledge, and needs, starting from problem identification, throughout the research process, and to the formulation and implementation of new policies. Using an integrative and iterative method, the team will examine: (1) how cultural worldviews, social institutions, and ecosystem governance systems influence the generation, transmission, and use of ecological knowledge in healing and protecting wild rice ecosystems; (2) how research on wild rice ecosystems can be improved by integrating biophysical science disciplines— geochemistry, microbiology, hydrology, and ecology—with traditional knowledge and practices; and (3) how academic institutions and federal, state, and tribal agencies can jointly develop policies that account for multiple cultural worldviews and incentivize sovereignty-based approaches to wild rice research and management. The study’s signature contribution will be to generate new understanding of the co-production of ecological knowledge and policy among tribes, academic researchers, and state agencies. A key outcome will be a culturally informed protocol for researching wild rice that can establish the University of Minnesota as a leader in fostering respectful and productive ties with Native communities. The proposed work is a local analysis of wild rice in Minnesota that will provide tangible policy recommendations for the state, but more broadly can serve as a flagship for the discourses of whole ecosystem sustainability and indigenous resource sovereignty.

Projects 2018 2020

Grand Challenges Research Awards: Phase 2

1/1/181/1/20

Project: Grand Challenges