Great Lakes Region

NOAA Partners with Lake Superior Tribal Communities and Great Lakes Sea Grant Programs to Support Manoomin (Wild Rice) Restoration

                               ”Losing rice would be like losing our language.”

                                                   ~Roger LaBine,

                                                                              Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Coastal wetlands are the ecological engines of the Great Lakes, but few natural resources have a stronger cultural connection than wild rice (manoomin). Compounding historic wetland losses, near-record high water levels on Lake Superior coupled with coastal development and contaminants threaten what remains. Local tribal communities are concerned about the viability and health of nearshore coastal wetlands and the sacred wild rice resources they support.

In response, NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM) recently held a second annual workshop on Lake Superior wetland and wild rice restoration. Over 70 participants shared concerns and priorities—including coastal wetland monitoring, restoration, education, and outreach.

With funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, OCM is working to address these concerns through:

  • new education and outreach partnerships with Sea Grant,

  • geospatial data development to identify restoration sites, and

  • much-needed ecosystem services resources.

Additionally, NOAA is partnering with Bureau of Indian Affairs to fund over $400,000 in on the ground restoration of coastal wetlands, with wild rice seeding efforts.

A third annual workshop is being planned for 2019 to continue this important dialogue. Until then, work on the three NOAA led project elements is ongoing as described below.

Education and Outreach Partnerships

At the April workshop, Native American Elder Jess Savage, said eloquently, “We have a lot of hurdles to get over for wild rice restoration, and the biggest is ignorance.”

Yet, efforts to overcome this hurdle have already begun. Sea Grant programs in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota will receive funds from OCM to create a Manoomin toolkit, which is designed to integrate traditional knowledge about wild rice with Western knowledge. The project lead stresses that the toolkit is more of a tribal effort than a Sea Grant effort, and will collaborate with the tribes to develop and share materials that would be useful to them to promote awareness and conservation of Manoomin, and encourage others to respect it as a significant cultural and regional resource.Native American Elder Jeff Savage, said eloquently, “We have a lot of hurdles to get over for wild rice restoration, and the biggest is ignorance.”

While the toolkit is a collaborative effort among the Sea Grant programs, tribal partners, and others, Wisconsin Sea Grant will take the lead on a database about the cultural and regional significance of wild rice, harvesting procedures, and its ecological functions and importance; Michigan Sea Grant on the development of project outreach materials, and Minnesota Sea Grant on youth education activities.

Geospatial Analysis to Identify Restoration Sites

OCM, together with several tribal and state partners, is contracting for the collection and delivery of geospatial information about Lake Superior’s wild rice resources. This data is intended to support tribal, state, and federal natural resource managers working on the monitoring, preservation, protection, and restoration of wild rice in the Lake Superior basin. It also will be used to aid in identifying wild rice locations within six pilot site wetland areas.

Capturing Ecosystem Services

To help underscore the importance of this resource, OCM will also support valuation of ecosystem services provided by wild rice and the coastal wetlands in which they are found. This analysis can help the surrounding community understand the importance of wild rice and help foster community stewardship and education. This study can also demonstrate wild rice’s cultural and ecological significance for policy- and decision-makers. As a current example of pending policy, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is proposing changes to sulfate water quality standards in order to protect wild rice which would limit sulfide in sediment of wild rice waters. This provides an opportunity to connect the framework for future policy to best serve the interests of the Anishinaabe, manoomin, and the supporting coastal wetlands in which wild rice grows framework for future policy to  best serve the interests of the Anishinaabe, manoomin, and the supporting coastal wetlands in which wild rice grows.

Image courtesy of Peter David.

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