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W i th a n o u t p o u r i n g f ro m th e s ta te co f fe rs , th e U n iv e r s i ty o f M in n e so ta d e p a r t m e n t s b e g a n to d e v e l o p a d om e s t ic a te d v e r s io n o f th e w ild rice c r o p . By th e e a r ly 1980s cu l t iv a te d “ w i l d r i c e ” h a d o u t s t r i p p e d t h e in d ig e n o u s v a r ie t ie s . I ro n ic a l ly , th e S ta te o f M in n e so ta lo s t c o n t ro l ov e r w i ld r i c e p r o d u c t i o n ( t h a t o f f ic ia l s ta te g r a in ) to th e s ta te o f C a l ifo rn ia , w h i c h p r o d u c e d o v e r 8 .3 m i l l io n p o u n d s , c o m p a r e d w ith M in n e s o ta ’s 5 m i l l io n p o u n d s . By 1986, m o r e th a n 95% o f th e “w ild r i c e ” h a r v e s t e d was p a d d y - g r o w n , th e vast m a jo r ity p r o d u c e d in n o r t h e r n C a lifo rn ia . W h e n t h e g lu t o f w ild r ic e h i t th e m a r k e t in 1986, th e p r ic e p l u m m e t e d o n t h e m a r k e t , d e v a s t a t in g th e N a t i v e w ild r ic e e c o n o m y as la k e s id e p r ic e s c r a s h e d .

N ow , J o e L a G a r d e , t h e W h i t e E a r th T r ib a l C o u n c i l a n d o t h e r I n d i a n s a r e c o n c e r n e d n o t on ly w ith th e e c o n om ic s , b u t w i th th e b io lo g y o f t h e w ho le th in g . “We th in k we can im p r o v e o n s o m e t h i n g t h a t ’s b e e n d e v e lo p in g o v e r th o u s a n d s o f years. E v e n tu a l ly , w e m i g h t e n d u p w ith n o t h i n g , ” L a G a r d e says, c o n c e r n e d a b o u t t h e g e n e t ic s t r a in s o f p a d d y r ic e , a n d t h e i r p o s s ib le im p a c t o n th e la ke r ic e c r o p . E very r ic e r knows t h a t t h e r i c e is d i s t i n c t b e tw e e n l a k e s . “T h e r e ’s s a n d - b o t t o m r i c e (u su a lly s h o r t e r g ra in s ) , m u d d y - b o t to m r ic e a n d o t h e r s , ” J o e exp la in s . “W e ’r e c o n c e r n e d a b o u t th e possible c r o s s b r e e d in g o f th e s e ‘h y b r id cu l t iv a te d v a r ie t ie s ’ w ith o u r la ke r ic e .” T h e W h i t e E a r t h T r i b a l C o u n c i l w r o t e a l e t t e r to t h e U n iv e r s i ty o f M i n n e s o t a a s k i n g t h e m t o “ q u i t m e s s in g w ith th e r ic e ” , J o e says. H e is w o r r i e d , a n d r em em b e r s a c h i ld h o o d s p e n t r ic in g a t M itch e ll D am o n th e R e fu g e , c am p in g fo r a week o r so. H e ’d like to k e e p t h a t m em o ry a p a r t o f a liv in g c u l tu r e , n o t a re l ic o f th e p r e - in d u s t r i a l i z e d a g r i c u l tu r e age.

AT TH E O TH ER END is th e c u l t iv a te d “w i ld r i c e ” m a r k e t w h ic h now se rv e s c o n s um e r s w h o d em a n d a big b la ck g r a in r ice , w h ich cooks a t th e sam e p a c e as th e i r w h i te rice. T h a t m a r k e t is h u g e . J e r r y S c h o ch e nm a iie r is th e G e n e ra l M a n a g e r o f I n d ia n H a r v e s t W ild Rice C om p a n y in M in n e s o ta . An affab le fellow, S ch o ch e n m a i e r is a m a j o r p r o m o t e r o f c u l t iv a te d “w ild r i c e ” . I n d i a n H a r vest, w h ich is th e la rg e s t “w ild r ic e ” p r o c e s s o r in th e co u n t ry , is a c om p a n y w i th few “ I n d i a n s ” e m p l o y e d , a l th o u g h som e la ke r ic e is in th e i r p r o g r a m m e . M ostly th e p la n t s a n d o p e r a t io n s a r e in C a l ifo rn ia , w h e r e th i s y e a r J e r r y e x p e c t s to p r o c e s s a r o u n d 13 m i l l io n p o u n d s o f w ild r ic e , w h ic h is 75% o f t h e n a t io n a l c r o p . I n d i a n H a r v e s t r e f l e c t s t h e n a t io n a l t r e n d s a n d t h e m a r k e t in “w ild r ic e ” , w h ich r em a in s fo cu ssed o n t h e c u l t i v a t e d v a r i e t i e s . “ I ’v e b e e n in w i ld r i c e b u s i n e s s s i n c e 1987,” w h e n h e j o i n e d th e com p any . I n 1989, I n d i a n H a r v e s t p ro c e s s e d som e 1 m il lio n p o u n d s ; by 1994 p r o d u c t io n was u p to 6 m il lio n p o u n d s , in c r e a s in g to a p r o j e c t e d 13 m illio n p o u n d s th is year. “T h e r ic e mill was o r i g i n a l l y d e s i g n e d to b e in M in n e s o ta , b u t C a l ifo rn ia was id e n t i f ie d as th e p la c e to p r o d u c e r ice , i f you w e r e g o in g in to th e b u s in e s s .” Calif o r n i a ’s f a rm s h av e c o n t r o l o v e r th e v a r i a b l e s — w a t e r is b o u g h t , n o t r a in e d d ow n ; n o w in d , n o hail. You j u s t “p u t th e se ed in , t e n d to it, a n d h a r v e s t i t , p r e t t y m u c h l i k e a n y o t h e r g r a in c r o p . ”

T h e r ice f o u n d in th e m a jo r m a r kets is q u i te d i f f e r e n t f ro m th e rice m o s t o f us see in n o r t h e r n M in n e so ta . C o m m e r c i a l l y p r o c e s s e d “w i ld r i c e ” , f o r U n c l e B e n ’s, G o u r m e t H o u s e a n d th e o t h e r b ig c om p a n ie s is p r o c e s s e d b la ck , a n d sc a r if ie d , so as “to g e t its cook t im e to m a tc h th a t o f w h i te r i c e , ” e x p l a in s S c h o c h e n m a i e r . T h a t way, t h o s e w h o s e e k “ g o u r m e t m e a l s ” c a n e n s u r e t h a t t h e i r r ic e is b r o u g h t to ta b le in a t im e ly m a n n e r . W h i le in t e r n a t io n a l t a s t e b u d s a n d g lo b a l c o r p o r a t i o n s h av e o n e id e a o f w h a t is w ild rice, th e i r in f lu e n c e h a s b e e n felt o n th e l a k e s o f B e c k e r C o u n t y , a n d t h r o u g h o u t t h e n o r t h c o u n t r y . T h e r e is lit t le s ta te in t e r e s t in e co l o g i c a l p r e s e r v a t i o n o f t h e r i c e . T h e r e a r e f ew e r b u y e r s , a t lo w e r p r ic e s , b u t , so lo n g as t h e r e is rice , t h e r e will always b e r ic e rs .

L ocal R ice A p ic k -u p pu l ls u p a t th e r ic e mill. E u g e n e D a v is a n d T o n y W a r r e n b r i n g in a r o u n d 300 p o u n d s o f rice o f f o f S o u th C h ip p ew a L ake. T h e y a r e t i r e d , w e t f r o m t h e r e c u r r i n g r a in o f m o r n in g , b u t th e y a r e happy. N in e t e e n -y e a r -o ld E u g e n e tells m e , “I like it w h e n it r a in s o u t th e r e ; i t ’s n ic e , you c a n ’t h e a r a n y t h in g b u t th e r a i n . ” I t is th a t p e a c e w h ich b r in g s th e r ic e rs back. I t is also th e m em o r ie s . I a sk E u g e n e w h a t h e th in k s a b o u t th e fact th a t p ro b a b ly five o r t e n g e n e r a t i o n s o f h is fam ily h a v e b e e n o n t h a t s a m e l a k e . “ I l ik e k n o w i n g t h a t ; i t m a k e s m e f e e l g o o d , ” h e says w ith a sm ile.

R e ce iv in g th e r ic e a r e a few m e n w h o g a t h e r u n d e r som e ta rp s a t th e o f f i c e s o f t h e W h i t e E a r t h L a n d R e covery P r o g r am o n R o u n d Lake. T h e sw e e t sm e l l o f r i c e p a r c h i n g wafts t h r o u g h th e d u s ty air, a n c ie n t m a c h i n e s s h i f t a n d c r e a k a s t h e h u sk s b low off, a n d th e rice slowly m o v e s t h r o u g h a l o n g c h a i n o f ev e n ts , a t th e e n d o f w h ic h th e shiny, d a r k g r e e n , t a n a n d b r o w n wild rice will g l im m e r in th e S e p te m b e r su n . T h e a i r is f ille d w i th th e d u s t f ro m t h e r ic e . T h e m e n a r e c o v e r e d in rice hulls, h u t sm ilin g b e n e a th all o f it.

T h e e q u i p m e n t is a n c i e n t , a n d m u c h o f i t h a n d m a d e : a 1940s R ed C l i p p e r f a n n i n g m ill, a h a n d m a d e th r a s h e r , a 1980s se t o f G eo rg e S t in so n p a r c h i n g d r u m s (a D e e r R iv er c e l e b r i t y ) , a f if t ie s v i n t a g e g r a v i ty ta b le . M ost o f th e new ly p r o d u c e d e q u i p m e n t is fo r th e la rg e size o p e r a t io n s lik e th o s e in C a l i f o r n ia , n o t h e r e . T h e m e n f id d le a r o u n d w ith th e m a c h in e s , f in e - tu n e th e g rav ity ta b le , a n d t h e n th e r ic e com es ou t. T h e y a r e local p r o d u c e r s , a n d th is is t h e q u a l i ty p e r f e c t io n o f th e sm a ll b a tc h , a n d th e s im p le joy o f th is life. T h e m e n a r e d o i n g t h e i r jo b , a n d th a t rice , like t h a t o f t h e i r an c e s to rs , is g o in g to f e e d f am i l ie s a n d f e e d sp ir its .

To th e r ic e r s o f W h i te E a r th , th is s e a s o n , t h e O j i b w e W i ld R i c i n g M oon is th e se a so n o f a h a rv e s t , a c e rem o n y , a n d a way o f life. “I g rew u p d o in g t h a t , ” re f lec ts S p u d F in e day . “ You g e t to v is i t p e o p l e y o u h a v e n ’t s e e n f o r a w h o l e y e a r , b e c a u s e j u s t a b o u t e v e r y o n e goes r ic in g . ” F a r away, a com b in e is h a rv e s ti n g w i l d r i c e s o m e w h e r e i n C a l ifo rn ia , a n d c o n s um e r s a r e e a t in g a v e r y d i f f e r e n t r ic e . T h e A n i s h i n a a b e g w o u ld n o t t r a d e w ith t h a t rice . I n th e e n d , th is r ic e ta kes its ta s te f r o m t h e la k e , a n d th is ta s te c a n n o t b e r e p l i c a t e d . T h e r e is n o rice lik e th e lake rice. •

For more in form ation: Indian Harv e s t , PO B o x 8 4 5 , B e m i d j i , MN 56619, or Native Harvest, 32033 E. R ound Lake R oad, P o n s fo r d , MN 56575-9250. Tel: (218) 573 3448.

Winona LaD uke is an American In d ia n activist.

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