Rez ricing for members onlyOn Friday morning, Fond du Lac Band members and others headed to the reservation’s Perch Lake had to produce evidence of a reservation ID to travel down the one-lane dirt road to the lake. Those with no ID were turned away politely, but firmly.
By: Jana Hollingsworth and Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
On Friday morning, Fond du Lac Band members and others headed to the reservation’s Perch Lake had to produce evidence of a reservation ID to travel down the one-lane dirt road to the lake. Those with no ID were turned away politely, but firmly.
The centuries-old practice of harvesting wild rice at the end of summer is open only to Fond du Lac band members this year on the reservation’s five ricing lakes.
The season opened Friday, and the decision was made Wednesday, said Reginald DeFoe, resource management director for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“There are concerns about protecting the rice and making the season last longer,” DeFoe said, noting that last year’s flood meant there was no crop last fall. He estimated this year’s crop is roughly half — about 400 acres — of what a good season would be for the five lakes.
Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver said the decision was made for conservation efforts.
“Because of no crop last year, and a smaller crop this year, the Band is restricting harvest on the reservation to Band members,” she said in an email reply to the Pine Journal. “This will be reviewed annually based on the crop outlook. Band members who wish to rice with non-Band spouses may still do so, but outside the reservation in the Band’s ceded territories.”
It didn’t sit well with some husband-and-wife teams that include a spouse who isn’t an enrolled band member, some of whom have riced for decades on the reservation.
Debra Topping is a Fond du Lac member, but her husband is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. They rice for their own meals and to give to their children and grandchildren.
When Topping went to pick up a license for her husband Thursday, she was told he wasn’t able to go on any of the reservation ricing lakes, but could rice on ceded territory off-reservation.
“For 30 years, that’s what we do,” she said, of ricing on Fond du Lac Reservation land. “That’s our food. That’s what led the Anishinaabe here. I collect whatever I am able to get in a year; whatever the Creator gives. Last year there wasn’t (any) so this year we’re scraping the bottom.”
She was told she could pair up with another member to collect rice, but to her, that meant splitting her harvest in half. She preferred going with her husband, she said, who has always been her partner.
Fond du Lac member, author and Pine Journal columnist Jim Northrup and his wife, Pat, who is Mdewakanton and not enrolled with Fond du Lac, have also riced together for decades on the reservation. The couple, known for their birch-bark baskets and maple syrup, sees ricing as a spiritual ceremony and a way of life.
After ricing Friday, Jim Northrup compared the Perch Lake crop to a “lush jungle.”
“In my observation, it’s the best it’s been in 20 years,” he said. “We can do without the micromanaging by people who don’t know what a good crop looks like.”
Perch Lake was open only to enrolled elders on the first day. Despite the new rule, Pat Northrup, an elder, wasn’t stopped from ricing, Jim Northrup said, adding that he gave his own ID number to the conservation officer. His son, Jim Northrup Jr., also riced on Friday as did numerous other Band members, who arrived at the Perch Lake checkpoint with canoes atop their vehicles with some regularity that morning.
There are also fewer days for subsistence ricing this year. Those days are for ricers who don’t plan to sell the rice, which the Band buys at $4 a pound. Some members are ready to sell on day one, DeFoe said, and some want four days of subsistence ricing, so two days was a compromise, he said.
Jim Northrup said when the Band increased the price from $2 a pound a few years ago, inexperienced ricers took to the lakes using tools like pool cues to harvest.
“They get a lot of rice, but they ruined it, beating on it,” he said.
The band buys several tons from ricers to donate to funerals, ceremonies, festivals, colleges and pow wows. The most it has purchased is 16 tons. DeFoe said he expects five to 10 tons this season, which will begin to replenish the reservation’s down reserves.
A typical season lasts roughly five days. The five lakes get between 100 and 150 boats, with two people per boat harvesting. About 30 boats were out Friday, DeFoe said. One lake has no rice this year and so had no harvesters.
Jim Northrup estimated he and Pat got about 50 pounds of rice on Friday and more on Tuesday, which means they have enough to eat and give away “to special people, for funerals and feasts.”
“An eagle flew over while we were on the lake [Friday], so the message will be carried to the Creator that we are still using the gift,” he added.
Diver said there was lengthy discussion about the policy between the governing body of the Band, which is the Reservation Business Committee, and the resource management staff.
“It was a difficult decision,” she said. “T