Hoping to yield rice results
Brokenhead/U of M initiative aims to re-establish culturally important food staple in Beaconia Marsh
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An initiative that began last fall has started to grow and might soon see wild rice, a culturally important crop, become a staple on dinner tables.
A community event regarding the initiative was held at South Beach Casino on April 29 to review the first results of the restoration project. Researchers Uche Nwankwo and Shirley Thompson, both from the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Manitoba, have been working with Brokenhead Ojibway Nation for two years.
Fifty pounds of wild rice was planted at Beaconia Marsh in Brokenhead — about 64 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg — by community members, along with Nwankwo and Thompson, in October.
Wild rice is a staple of Indigenous peoples of Canada but has largely disappeared because of the impacts of colonialism.
Brenda Greyeyes, Brokenhead’s economic development manager, said the community event was organized to engage the community and hear people’s visions for restoring “manoonmin,” as wild rice is called in Ojibwa.
“Brokenhead is excited to explore the cultivation of the rice. From a commercial aspect, that partnership would be ideal,” Greyeyes said.
“We will have a better understanding of our options once we have the chance to compile the data collected at the community event, which will help us determine the direction the community wishes to take. This is all, of course, once we see if the rice that was planted in the fall has seeded. We should know by July, when we will return to the banks of the Brokenhead River to look for those shoots.”
Nwankwo said Wild Man Ricing initially donated six pounds of wild rice, and then the 50 planted this fall. The company is owned by brothers Richard and Tony Atkins, who have indicated an interest in helping to solve some of the problems of food insecurity and youth unemployment common in Indigenous communities.
“Their gesture was totally borne out of collaboration and partnership. I tried several other companies, but… none of them had any wild rice,” Nwankwo said.
Greyeyes pointed out some of the economic, climate and health challenges Brokenhead is facing and said interest in wild rice might help address these issues.
“We need to look to the land and look out for each other. The world is changing every day due to things we can not control, such as global warming and inflation, to name a few. We have over 13,000 hectares of land here and a 70 per cent diabetes rate,” she said.
“We need to take our future in our own hands as the stewards of this land. As the project grows with each milestone achieved, we will look at other viable options such as providing our products to our local grocery store, processing and canning workshops, as well as economic development.”
Greyeyes views the project as a mission to restore some traditional foods to the region and increase biodiversity.
“As Brokenhead drives toward a healthier, more sustainable future for our community, this opportunity will allow us to provide a steady and nutritious supply of fruits, vegetables and wild rice to our nation,” she said.