Wild rice: The dynamics of its population cycles and the debate over its control at the Minnesota legislature

Rachel Elena Durkee Walker

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis


Population cycling in plant and animal communities is of interest to Ojibwe band members and ecologists, and Western ecologists. The causes and consequences of wild rice population cycling and its long term viability have both cultural and scientific implications. I examine several Western scholars' research, its strengths and weaknesses, regarding Ojibwe accommodation of wild rice populations. Building on the interest of Ojibwe and Western ecologists in population cycles, and collaborating with Fond du Lac Reservation managers, I present a model which simulates delays from the release of nitrogen in decomposing wild rice straw. The model and experimental work show how these delays may cause population cycles. I planted wild rice seed obtained from the Fond du Lac Reservation over three years in mesocosms. I asked whether wild rice litter accumulation could inhibit plant growth by nitrogen immobilization in fresh litter. The timing of litter nitrogen immobilization and mineralization affected the potential growth of wild rice, seed production and total plant nitrogen. My data reveals that delays in nutrient availability due to deposition of immobilizing litter potentially cause fluctuations. Litter quantity appears to play a central role. Root litter also appears to be the source of the longest delay in nitrogen cycling through slower decay rates and sustained periods of nitrogen immobilization. Therefore, both Ojibwe cosmological worldviews and my experimental research recognize wild rice population cycles as part of healthy ecosystem functioning. Interest in these cycles is part of a larger interest in wild rice protection, central to the spiritual and cultural integrity of Ojibwe. Due largely to Ojibwe initiatives, legislation passed in Minnesota 2007 requiring submission of an Environmental Impact Statement in the case of a permit to genetically engineer wild rice either within or outside Minnesota. These efforts are part of a long history of Ojibwe attempt to address the cultural implications of Western scientific inquiry, inquiry often made without their consent. In the last chapter of this thesis, I examine the cultural background of this political process, concluding that the historical and political context of scientific investigation is critical to exposing weaknesses in research questions and political processes.
Original languageEnglish (US)
  • Pastor, John J, Advisor
StatePublished - 2008


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