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Wild Rice Project

Students place clay seed ballsThe Institute is partnering with local schools, governments and community-based organizations on a collaborative project to restore native wild rice to wetlands in the River Raisin Watershed.

Reseeding activities began at Bolles Harbor in Monroe, Mich. Teachers and students experimented with three methods for re-seeding wild rice at the Charles and June Knabusch Mathematics and Science Center in May 2008. Students transplanted seedlings that were sown in March and kept in aquariums until planting. They also placed seed balls, formed by rolling wild rice seeds inside clay, in the shallows of the wetland near the center.

Students broadcast wild rice along Lake Erie shorelineFor the last method of scattering wild rice seeds by hand, the students were escorted to DTE Energy property where they broadcast seeds into Lake Erie near the shoreline.

Students returned to the seeded areas in the fall but they did not observe any established wild rice beds. Wild rice is a plant species that is sensitive to its environment and can be difficult to re-establish. It is also common to see rice beds becoming established years after the reseeding efforts. The seeded areas will continue to be monitored.

Once the reseeded wild rice becomes established, public workshops will be planned to demonstrate harvesting and processing methods as well as explaining nutritional and health benefits.

In December 2008, Bill Paulson of the Anishinabeg Ojibwe Nation and Sah Kah Tay Indigenous Preservation Society on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota presented a wild rice processing demonstration for the students and staff at Knabusch Mathematics and Science. He and Mike Neumann showed the students and faculty Native American methods for preparing the wild rice for human consumption.

A student stirs the wild rice over open flameThe first step is parching the wild rice. Students helped prepare the parching site by digging a hole to create an earthen wall behind a metal kettle and building a fire behind it. They stirred the wild rice with a wooden paddle and the heat of the fire dried the rice loosening the husk from the seed. On the reservation, old men perform this job as they can sit and share the stories and history of their people.

Bill Paulson demonstrates jigging wild riceThe seed is then transferred to a tarp-covered hole for the next step in the process of jigging. Two poles are tied to a tree to steady the dancer. This is a task reserved for the young teenagers as the wild rice is not crushed by their weight. Drum and song keeps the tempo while the youth dances on the rice. Using their heels, they slowly crush the husks against the side of the hole. Here, a canvas tarp covers this hole instead of the traditional deerskin hide. The dancer wears ceremonial moccasins made for the purpose of jigging. The moccasins never come in direct contact with dirt or the ground.

 

Bill Paulson demonstrates winnowing techniqueThe last step is called winnowing. This is a technique that requires a certain amount of skill and is usually a task performed by the elder women on the reservation. As Bill gently tossed the wild rice into the air and the husks drifted away on the breeze. The heavier, finished rice fell back into the birch bark basket hand-made by an elder on the White Earth Reservation. The basket was then presented as a gift to he Knabusch Mathematics and Science Center.

Following the demonstration, students and faculty sampled tasty, simple dishes made with wild rice, venison and vegetables.

The institute received permission from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to reseed locally native lower lake wild rice (zizania aquatica var. aquatica) in wetlands at Sterling State Park in Monroe, Mich.. Volunteers continue to search for an established seed source site for the lower lake wild rice. Future reseeding and restoration activities are also planned for areas at Bolles Harbor, Sisters Island and along the Mason Run drain tributary.

Sowing wild rice and clay ballsThis project is the first planned activity as part of the long-term restoration goal as identified in the Watershed Monitoring Project.