Winona LaDuke (b. 1959), member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg, is an Anishinaabe activist who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in what is currently known as Minnesota (US). She is founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), as well as co-founder and current acting executive director for Honor the Earth.1 LaDuke’s activism has covered a wide range of Indigenous environmental concerns, including the protection of Anishinaabe foodstuffs like Manomin (Wild Rice). Manomin is the only cereal grain indigenous to Mikinaak Minis (Turtle Island or North America), growing in shallow lakes, rivers and bays throughout Anishinaabe-Aki territory.2 It is considered a gift from Gitche Manitou (the Great Creator): not only as a life sustaining food source, but also as a spirited being capable of entering into reciprocal relationships with human and other-than-human entities.3 However, Manomin is often threatened by settler encroachment and anthropogenic changes to its habitats. Through a reflection on LaDuke’s approach/es to the domestication and genetic modification of Manomin by the University of Minnesota, as well as to the proposed pipeline construction across manomin habitats by Enbridge and their Line 3 replacement program, we find that LaDuke strategically combines and mobilizes Indigenous-settler knowledges to advocate for and protect this keystone species. As LaDuke’s work-to-date shows, braiding knowledges is one approach to manomin protection that is generating critical conversations about Indigenous foodways on Mikinaak Minis.
Understanding Manomin as a Culturally Significant Other-Than-Human Being
LaDuke describes Manomin as something “that is uniquely Anishinaabeg.”4 First, it is an integral element to the Anishinaabe migration story. LaDuke explains, “[the Anishinabeg] followed a shell in the sky from the great waters of the East to the place where the food grows on the water. That food was wild rice […] and it has been a central food in ceremony and sustenance for our people ever since.”5 Through this migration and subsequent interactions with not only Manomin, but also with Nibi (Water) – the habitat where Manomin grows – reciprocal responsibilities with the aquatic plant emerged. In his article, “Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice,” Kyle Whyte comments that these responsibilities (i.e., gift giving and receiving) needed to be developed in order to “support the lives of all [human and other-than human] relatives.”6 As a food source, Manomin is not only a “supreme food for nutrition,”7 consisting of “high levels of protein, carbohydrates, potassium, and phosphorus and low levels of fat,”8 but is also a source of economic wealth for Anishinaabe families who use the sales of their harvested Manomin to supplement their household income.9 In order for Manomin to continue to offer its various gifts to human beings, human beings must in turn continue to offer their own gifts of “stewardship and protection” over manomin habitats.10 This reciprocal relationship is a “persisting responsibility” – passed on and maintained throughout generations – and as such, is intrinsically linked with Anishinaabe identity, as well as community and environmental health.11 Therefore, when Manomin and its habitats are threatened, LaDuke argues that so too is “the Anishinaabeg way of life.”12 This is what drives her advocacy work.
Advocating for Manomin and Manomin Habitats
University of Minnesota, Domestication, and Genetic Modification
In the 1950s, researchers at the University of Minnesota began initiating specialized manomin domestication efforts with the goal of developing manomin varieties that could produce increased yields and be mechanically harvested.13 By the 1980s, production of domesticated Manomin – now cultivated in paddy fields – “outstripped that of the indigenous varieties”14 and further destabilized the livelihoods of Anishinaabe traditional harvesters who could no longer compete on the market.15 Then, in 2000, the University of Minnesota mapped the manomin genome – laying the foundation for future genetic engineering of the aquatic plant – despite opposition by Anishinaabe leaders, activists, and harvesters who argue that the contamination of original manomin stands by domesticated/genetically engineered varieties could not only impair the diversity of traditional stands, but also undermine Anishinaabe food sovereignty.16
I will be reflecting on two of LaDuke’s strategies of address.17 First is the use of lobbying via her organization WELRP. In 2005 and 2006, the Minnesota Senate tabled variations of a “wild rice bill” that sought to enact protections for Manomin and Indigenous harvesters.18 After a “pitched battle”19 that included opposition from industry representatives (i.e., Monsanto) and the University of Minnesota, an Omnibus Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Finance bill, S.F. No. 2096, was signed on May 8, 2007.20 In their article, “Wild Rice: The Minnesota Legislature, A Distinctive Crop, GMOS, and Ojibwe Perspectives,” Rachel Durkee Walker and Jill Doerfler argue that lobbying efforts in 2007, led largely in part by LaDuke and Sarah Alexander of WELRP, were an effective strategy in swaying the vote in favour.21 These lobbying efforts included “increased tribal leader testimony” and “more people on the ground” compared to previous sessions in 2005 and 2006.22 Walker and Doerfler note that the “energy, strategic planning, and competence” of WERLP lobbyists was apparent in the bill’s first hearing in the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division Committee, and WERLP continued to be an influential proponent in getting the bill passed.23
The second strategy of address LaDuke has utilized is the use of various open access platforms to share publications that, while combining Indigenous-settler knowledges and sources, centre Anishinaabe worldviews. “Wild Rice Moon” was published by Yes! Magazine in 2000 and “Wild Rice and Ethics” was released by Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine in 2004. Both are free to access on the internet. This not only allows LaDuke to reach a wider audience, but it also allows the general public (her target audience) to read, engage, and mobilize the information she is presenting. It is not restricted to the scholars and conversations that exist within academic institutions.
LaDuke’s centring of Anishinaabe worldviews in these articles is yet another decolonizing strategy. Consider: LaDuke opens “Wild Rice Moon” with a brief story of how Nanaboozhoo, an Anishinaabe half-spirit and half-human trickster figure, learned about Manomin. She narrates, “Later, [Nanaboozhoo] followed in the direction the duck had taken and came to a lake full of manoomin. He saw all kinds of duck and geese and mudhens, and all the other water birds eating the grain. After that, when Nanaboozhoo did not kill a deer, he knew where to find food to eat.”24 She then proceeds to weave oral testimonies from Anishinaabe harvesters with settler terminologies and empirical data, linking the conversation to larger debates on “biodiversity, culture, and globalization.”25 Her writing is narratively interesting, educational while remaining accessible to her target audience, and provides tangible calls-to-action. For example, in “Wild Rice and Ethics,” LaDuke states: “But there is much work to be done. The Anishinaabeg community is hopeful that the University of Minnesota will bring ethics into its relationships with [I]ndigenous people and others in the new millennium, so that we may stop the destructive patterns of research, and work toward a positive future for all of our children.”26 Anishinaabe worldviews and demands are first and foremost, but LaDuke is also appealing to wider audiences beyond researchers at the University of Minnesota. The genetic engineering of Manomin is part of a larger conversation on how settler researchers, institutions, and industries engage with Indigenous peoples and their environments. These relationships (Indigenous-settler as well as human-environment) are something that has impacted, and will continue to impact, not only Indigenous peoples, but settlers as well.
Enbridge and the Line 3 Replacement Program
The Line 3 pipeline is 1,660 km long, extending from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. Its replacement program is one of the largest projects in Enbridge history.27 In her article, “The Thunderbirds versus the Black Snake: On Anishinaabe Akiing, An Epic Battle Against Oil Pipelines is Underway,” LaDuke explains that the new Line 3 construction would not only cut across Anishinabeg treaty territories, but also through “the most bountiful wild rice lakes in the region.”28 Enbridge is not known to have a clean environmental record. In 2010, Line 6b ruptured and sent an approximate 1 million gallons of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River.29 Should a spill occur – and LaDuke argues that the likelihood of a spill occurring is very high – the effects of the oil contamination would be potentially disastrous for the watershed, for Manomin, and for the surrounding Anishinaabe communities who physically, culturally, and economically depend on them.
LaDuke’s strategy of address has been to campaign through the organization Honor the Earth. In his article, “Following the Green Path: Honor the Earth and Presentations of Anishinaabe Indigeneity,” Nicholas Cragoe describes the organization as a “central node in a network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental organizations and campaigns, providing connections, material support, and informational resources and carrying out its own particular environmental campaigns.”30 In their advocacy for Manomin and their campaign against Line 3, Honor the Earth utilizes social media, fundraising events, protests, and an annual Love Water Not Oil tour to educate, communicate with, and mobilize allies.31 The “most procedurally orientated events” are town hall meetings that allow local residents (Anishinaabe and settler) to question public and industry representatives about “safety, public health, corporate conduct, and transparency.”32 These meetings also serve an additional purpose, in that they are used by LaDuke and Honor the Earth to translate Anishinaabe concerns into settler ones. Much like her open access articles, these meetings allow LaDuke to weave Anishinaabe knowledges with settler data, grounding her audiences in shared “legal, economic, and environmental troubles.”33 Line 3 is not just an Anishinaabe concern, but rather something that implicates and impacts all land and water users.
While Anishinaabe traditions and worldviews remain centred in all of LaDuke’s advocacy work, her strategies of address have always been to target and combine Indigenous and settler knowledges, sources, and allies. From the publication of her articles across various open access platforms to providing tangible calls-to-action, LaDuke has consistently advocated for Manomin to/with Indigenous and settler peoples. Her decision to do so emphasizes that both Indigenous and settler peoples have a “vital stake in the preservation of a healthy ecosystem.”34 That we all have a responsibility to uphold to our other-than-human relations.
Feature Image Credit: Dylan White.
“About Our Founder.” White Earth Land Recovery Project. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://www.welrp.org/about-welrp/about-our-founder/.
Awāsis, Sākihitowin. “Gwaabaw: Applying Anishinaabe Harvesting Protocols to Energy Governance.” The Canadian Geographer 65, no. 1 (2021): 8-23. doi: 10.1111/cag.12615.
Cragoe, Nicholas. “Following the Green Path: Honor the Earth and Presentations of Anishinaabe Indigeneity.” Wicazo Sa Review 32, no. 2 (2017): 46-69. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/704719.
LaDuke, Winona. “Wild Rice Moon.” Yes! Magazine. July 1, 2000. https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/food/2000/07/01/wild-rice-moon.
—–. “Wild Rice and Ethics.” Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine 28, no. 3 (2004). https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/wild-rice-and-ethics.
—–. “The Long and Honorable Battle of the Ojibwe to Keep Their Wild Rice Wild.” Indian Country Today. November 2, 2011; last modified September 13, 2018. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/the-long-and-honorable-battle-of-the-ojibwe-to-keep-their-wild-rice-wild.
—–. “The Thunderbirds versus the Black Snake: On Anishinaabe Akiing, An Epic Battle Against Oil Pipelines is Underway.” Earth Island Journal 30, no. 3 (2015): 44-47.
—–. “Ricekeepers.” Orion Magazine. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://orionmagazine.org/article/ricekeepers/.
Lehman, Margaret and Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation. “An Introduction to Manomin.” NiCHE. November 1, 2019. https://niche-canada.org/2019/11/01/an-introduction-to-manomin/.
“Learn More About Winona LaDuke’s Legacy.” Spotted Horse Press. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://www.winonaladuke.com/press.
Luby, Brittany, Samantha Mehltretter, Robert Flewelling, Margaret Lehman, Gabrielle Goldhar,
Elli Pattrick, Jane Mariotti, Andrea Bradford, and Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation. “Beyond Institutional Ethics: Anishinaabe Worldviews and the Development of a Culturally Sensitive Field Protocol of Aquatic Plant Research.” water 13, no. 5 (2021): 1-13. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13050709.
Raster, Amanda and Christina Gish Hill. “The Dispute Over Wild Rice: An Investigation of Treaty Agreements and Ojibwe Food Sovereignty.” Agriculture and Human Values 34, no. 2 (2017): 267-281. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9703-6.
Walker, Rachel Durkee and Jill Doerfler. “Wild Rice: The Minnesota Legislature, A Distinctive Crop, GMOS, and Ojibwe Perspectives.” Hamline Law Review 32, no. 2 (2009): 499-528.
Whyte, Kyle. “Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Injustice.” Environment and Society 9, no. 1 (2018): 125-144. doi:10.3167/ares.2018.090109.