Fond du Lac Follies...Tales of harvesting manoomin, a gift from the Creator
Fond du Lac Follies motored to Perch Lake to harvest manoomin (wild rice). My wife, Patricia, and I were going to manoominike together as we had been doing for the last several decades.
What a grand sight greeted us. Perch Lake was full of manoomin. I did not see any open water anywhere, the green was everywhere. I also didn't see any lily pads or moose ears. Those two plants compete with the manoomin for the lake nutrients. Thanks Charlie Nahganub and the other manoomin tenders. The amount of rice on the lake was the most I have seen in many years.
We offered tobacco in gratitude.
According to the Rez DNR this was a poor crop. I have problems with that. To my way of thinking it is a gift and not a crop. Farmers sow and then reap a crop. The manoomin is a gift from the Creator. How did the DNR determine this was a "poor crop?" Were they looking at it from the space station?
The manoomin was growing too thick for my wife to pole through. We had a back-up plan - my son Jim, the champion manoomin pole racer at our language camp, was nearby. He stepped into the canoe and had us moving along nicely through the thick manoomin. I leaned the manoomin with one knocker while I stroked the rice heads with the other.
I smelled the lake. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue and the critters were plentiful. The green plants were abundant. The manoomin grains looked heavy and full. They were. I kept knocking the manoomin.
Jim pointed out a bald eagle. It is my belief that the eagle will carry the message to the Creator we are still using his gift. We saw some trumpeter swans and of course the little rice hens. The geese went honking by like they were in a traffic jam. There was a small breeze from the south that caused the manoomin to lean over my canoe at just the right angle for easy knocking. At first the manoomin rattled against the metal hull of the canoe, in a very short time it quit making that noise because the bottom of the canoe was filling up. I heard other people making manoominike noises.
Manoominike is an annual gift, some years it is difficult to get enough, other years it is easy. This year was one of the easy years. It really doesn't matter how much manoomin we get, as said earlier, it is a gift. I feel lucky to take part in this unique experience. It is all so familiar to me.
I saw people helping people getting their canoes into the water, loaning someone a sack to hold their manoomin. I heard many stories and much laughter on the lake shore. We know that 100 pounds of finished manoomin will last us a year until the next time we harvest.
The second day Patricia went to harvest manoomin with son Jim. She knocks rice better than I do, so she said I should stay home and do my writing. So in two days we have enough manoomin to use as gifts, weddings, funerals, and to eat anytime we want.
At Perch Lake, my son Jim is giving a different kind of a gift. He is sharing what he knows about finishing manoomin. He has constructed a waaginogaan, has a fire pit, and a dancing pit. People come and learn how manoomin is finished at home.
I think my son is doing a good thing by teaching what he learned here at home. He is reaching a larger audience because his job is to be the cultural advisor on the Reservation.
* * *
What an honor to be asked to be a mentor at the Oak Lake Tribal Writers Retreat in Brookings, S.D. I join the ranks of some noted Native American writers such as N. Scott Momaday, Kim Blaeser, LeAnne Howe, Susan Power, Joseph Marshall III, Jodi Boyd, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, James Welch, Laura Tohe, Bobbie Hill and Gordon Henry.
Patricia and I set up camp in a Days Inn motel. It wasn't a seedy motel but it did have a lot of miles on it. Our room was about a half mile from the front desk.
Dr. Chuck Woodward was our local guide. He arranged everything and was easy to get to know. We shared a war: he was a Marine Lieutenant in the 3rd Marines in Vietnam. I didn't know whether to call him Doctor or Lieutenant so I called him Chuckles.
I had a group of writers so I used most of the exercises I used when I was a writer in the schools many moons ago.
It was a fulfilling experience.
The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone. They are not meant to represent this newspaper, the Rez, the DNR and a few more initials. Comments and bingo packs can be sent to FdL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN, 55780-0016 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Find Jim on Facebook, too.