Culture camping: Wild rice camp returns next weekend

Photo courtesy of Tiia Frisvaal/Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Youth Kathleen Smith seeds wild rice from a canoe, scattering it in shallow water.

Manoomin (Wild Rice) Camp is returning this year, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, but this time will be preceded by a Manoomin Cultural Camp that begins on Aug. 29, in response to requests for more preparation time. The cultural camp will include native teachings, stories and crafts including the making of ricing tools.

“People don’t have these things just laying around,” Valoree Gagnon said.

Gagnon si the director of university-indigenous community partnerships at Michigan Technological University (MTU) and one of the organizers of the cultural camp.

The Manoomin Camp, which has been an annual event since 2009, was started to spread both the cultural and practical knowledge of native peoples not only among the tribes, but also among non-tribal members.

“If we want to protect our harvest and wild rice beds, indigenous people need allies,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Smith/Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Natural Resources Department Instructor Roger LaBine explains the proper carving of sticks used for wild rice harvesting at last year's Manoomin Camp.

Wild rice is not only an important traditional food source, but also has a place in the Ojibwa migration story, making it an important part of tribal culture, according to Evelyn Ravindran, the director of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Natural Resource Department (NRD).

NRD employees are in the process of assessing damage to the rice beds from the June 17 flooding. According to Ravindran, wild rice won’t grow in water deeper than 6 feet, so a wetter season and deeper water will shrink the beds. Wild rice also requires some gentle water flow to grow healthily, but too fast of flow can uproot the plant, according to information from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).

The temperature increases associated with climate change also pose a threat to wild rice. In the fall, rice seeds are scattered in the beds to germinate during the winter.

“We need those extremely cold temperatures to crack the seed of the rice so it germinates,” Ravindran said.

Even a shortened winter can mean fewer seeds sprouting in spring. If temperatures continue to increase, wild rice might only be able to grow further north, in Canada.

“We’re hoping it will stay,” Ravindran said.

Both the regular and the cultural wild rice camps are provided free to attendees, thanks to sponsorship from the NRD, GLIFWC, MTU’s Great Lakes Resource Center, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, and instructors Roger LaBine and Scott Herron.

More information and registration links can be found on the NRD website,