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The Menominee are an Algonquin speaking nation and the name "O-MAEQ-NO-MIN-NI-WUK" means Wild Rice People. Wild rice once grew abundantly in the great flats along the Menominee River and wild rice has always been a staple food for Great Lakes Indian people. Today, however, the distribution of wild rice has been greatly reduced from its historical range within the Great Lakes region and specifically within the Menominee Indian Reservation.
By the1970s, the amount of wild rice growing had dwindled significantly for unknown reasons. Also a large development in the southeastern portion of the reservation destroyed eight lakes. The development came about after a Congressional act terminated the tribal status of the Menominee and before 1972 when a new restoration act was passed. The impacts of termination were severe economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. The tribe still feels the consequences.
This project strives to recover the importance of wild rice and the ability of the tribe to harvest it for sustenance to the Menominee people, something that has been absent on the reservation for nearly 50 years. The $95,226 NRDAR funded wild rice reintroduction work on the Menominee Indian Reservation is an aquatic and near-shore habitat quality improvement project that comes with cultural benefits.
First, the tribe assessed wetlands in various lakes to determine the suitability of sediment and habitat for wild rice reintroduction. The ecology of wild rice is not well understood and not widely studied, but during the past two years the tribe has undertaken studies on 30 lakes within the reservation to determine acceptable conditions for wild rice growth. This fall, the tribe seeded about 74 acres with wild rice in areas deemed the most suitable.
Natasha Kassulke is associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.