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Michigan Wild Rice Initiative works toward Statewide Tribal-State Manoomin Stewardship Plan as nation’s first ‘native grain’ designation is bestowed

As part of Native American Heritage Month, MI Environment highlights the latest work of the Michigan Wild Rice Initiative (MWRI) to develop a statewide tribal-state Manoomin Stewardship Plan. The work progresses amid the backdrop of the Michigan Legislature naming Manoomin the state’s official native grain, the first native grain designation in the United States.

Manoomin Stewardship Plan workshop participants in kayaks exploring a manoomin bed.

Manoomin Stewardship Plan workshop participants in canoes exploring a manoomin bed.

More than 70 partners from across Michigan gathered earlier this year in Roscommon at a two-day workshop to provide input on the draft Michigan Tribal-State Manoomin Stewardship Plan.

The MWRI and U-M Water Center, who have partnered to develop the stewardship plan, organized the workshop. MWRI includes representatives from EGLE; the state departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Transportation; and each of the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan. Participants represented tribal, state and federal agencies, elders, and ricers from tribal communities, as well as individuals from a wide variety of local governments/boards, colleges, and non-governmental organizations.

Michigan’s wild rice, Zizania palustris and Zizania aquatica, is native to the Great Lakes region and portions of Canada. It was recently designated the state’s native grain. Found in shallow waters of inland lakes, slow-flowing streams, and Great Lakes embayments, wild rice has ecological, social, cultural and economic value in the state, specifically and most particularly for Anishinaabe communities in the region, who know the plant as manoomin or mnomin. Once plentiful throughout Michigan, wild rice is under threat from climate change, habitat loss, uninformed harvesting practices, degraded water quality and other factors.

During the first day of the workshop, attendees visited local wild rice beds, learned about wild rice harvesting and processing techniques, and heard from tribal elders and community members about the importance of wild rice to Anishinaabe culture and communities.

“We felt that the field day was the best way to begin the workshop so that everyone had a chance to experience being in a manoomin bed and hear about what makes it so special and important,” said Frank Zomer, fisheries biologist with Bay Mills Indian Community and co-chair of the Michigan Wild Rice Initiative with Katie Lambeth, EGLE’s environmental justice and tribal liaison.

During the second day of the workshop, participants provided feedback on the initial draft of the stewardship plan. The draft plan includes the historical context of wild rice in Michigan, the current status of wild rice, and the steps needed to protect, enhance, and restore wild rice for present and future generations so that it can remain an essential part of the ecosystem.

The MWRI and U-M Water Center will work together over the next several months to incorporate the feedback from workshop participants into the draft plan. The team expects the stewardship plan will be finalized in 2024. “We really appreciate the feedback and support we’ve received from partners in the development of the stewardship plan and are excited to finalize the plan to help guide the work of the MWRI moving forward,” said Lambeth.