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Recipe for Wild Rice Harvest: Just Add Clean Water

Jeff Savage harvests rice on Perch Lake, part of the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe reservation. (Laurie Stern)
Jeff Savage harvests rice on Perch Lake, part of the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe reservation. (Laurie Stern)
September 19, 2017

CLOQUET, Minn. - The wild-rice harvest in Minnesota is wrapping up an exceptionally good year despite threats to its future. Comments from Jeff Savage, director, Fond du Lac Cultural Center and Museum.

The 2017 rice season will go down as one of the state's best in a long time, with ricers pulling in as many as 300 pounds a day.

Jeff Savage is an elder with the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe. He says although wild rice is plentiful, there are fewer lakes where it can be found.

"Wild rice cannot grow in polluted waters," he says. "I've been harvesting wild rice for 53 consecutive years now, and in my lifetime I have seen many of our wild rice beds have disappeared."

Savage and other ricers are concerned about pollution from mine runoff and plans to build a new pipeline close to ricing lakes.

They're hopeful that as wild rice's reputation grows as a kind of low-fat, high-protein superfood, people will care more about the environment it needs to grow.

"And maybe if wild rice got more popular, a clean environment has to get more popular," he adds. "To have more wild rice, we've got to have more clean water."

Harvesting it is labor-intensive. Ricers use knocking sticks to fill their canoes, then bag it, dry it and remove the hulls.

Wild rice is sacred to many Native people and an essential aspect of Ojibwe culture.

"The whole Ojibwe nation migrated from the East Coast on a prophecy that told us to travel to the land where the food grows on the water," he explains. "And so that's the reason why we are here, is that wild rice."

A lot of supermarkets sell wild rice that is cultivated or farmed and not hand-harvested. Savage says real wild rice is a way of life, a nutritious food, and an important indicator of the health of the environment.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN