Ricing Time: Harvesting on the Lakes of White Earth

Winona LaDuke and Margaret Smith (seated)

Winona LaDuke, founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, stands behind reservation elder Margaret Smith. Courtesy WELRP hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy WELRP
Two members of the Ojibwe tribe in a canoe venture into tall grasses to harvest wild rice.

Members of the Ojibwe tribe pole through the rice reeds to begin harvesting the wild rice. Courtesy WELRP hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy WELRP

Each fall, the Ojibwe tribes of northern Minnesota harvest wild rice by hand. It's a long process that begins with families in canoes venturing into the tall grasses, where rice is poled and gently brushed with knockers into the bed of the canoe. We journey to the rice lakes of White Earth Reservation to investigate how one tribe is supporting itself and changing the diet of its people through community kitchen projects.

Story Notes

We saw Winona LaDuke and Margaret Smith speak at the International Slow Food Congress, where their group, the White Earth Land Recovery Project, was recognized for its work to preserve wild rice and restore local food systems on the reservation. They were inspiring and intriguing. We told Winona about the Hidden Kitchens project, and she told us to come for the reservation's wild rice harvest in August. So we did.

Through its Native Harvest label, WELRP produces and sells an array of traditional foods — wild rice, chokecherry jelly, raspberry preserves, fry bread mix, buffalo sausage, hominy and a selection of beautiful handmade crafts. Healthy foods support a healthy community. Visit Native Harvest online to learn more and help support them by enjoying their traditional foods and crafts.

Heritage Foods USA is working to expand the markets for and increase the revenues of native groups throughout the country, including Native Harvest in northern Minnesota. Through thoughtful globalization, these endangered foods and stories can be saved.

— The Kitchen Sisters

Special thanks to: Winona LaDuke; Ron Chilton; Pat Wichern; Sarah Alexander; Ed Barnett; Florence Goodman; Paul Schultz of Native Radio; Aaron Price; Becky Niemi; Pat Wichern; the team at the ricing shed; Native Harvest and the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

Production Notes

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva), with Jay Allison, Laura Folger, Kate Volkman, Melissa Robbins, Viki Merrick, Sydney Lewis, Chelsea Merz, and Joyce & Roger Gentzler. Mixed by Andrew Roth, Earwax Productions.

Tribal Stories

Hear Paul Schultz, Ojibwe tribal elder:

Listen: On the Role Elders Play in the Rice Harvest

Listen: On Tribal Beliefs and Traditions Surrounding the Rice Harvest

Listen: On the Relationship Between Rice and People

Hear from LaDuke

Listen: On How Wild Rice Brought Her Parents Together

Listen: On Her Father's Pragmatic View on Philosophy & Corn

Listen: On Preserving Native Wild Rice

Listen: On the Ancestral Links Between Windmills and Her Family's Work

Listen: On How Generations of Native Americans Continue to Wrestle with the Same Issues

More 'Hidden Kitchens'

About the Music

This story features the song "One Piece at a Time," from the album The Many Sides of Johnny Cash.

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