U.S. House of Representatives
July 12, 2013
Dear Mr. Nolan:
My name is Robert DesJarlait. I am the Director of Protect Our Manoomin (POM). POM was organized in 2010 and is an Minnesota Anishinaabe organization that provides education and outreach in issues concerning wild rice (manoomin). Members in our organization include individuals from the Mississippi, Red Lake, Sandy Lake, Rice Lake, Fond du Lac, Pembina, Bois Forte, and White Earth Ojibwe Bands. Currently, there are 1,125 members in POM.
I think when people speak about wild rice, they often do so without factoring in the tribal aspect. We talk about scientific approaches, evaluation, and protocols. We Anishinaabe already know the ecological importance of wild rice. We’ve known this long before Minnesota became a state. We know its value. And we know about its beneficial uses. We’ve known this for many, many generations.
When our leaders signed treaties in the 1880’s, they knew of the importance of wild rice, and they retained the right to harvest the rice and to protect the environment that produced rice. It was not a right granted to us, it was a right we retained.
The Co-Director of Protect Our Manoomin wrote about the meaning of wild rice. It not only speaks of the mindset of those of us who protect wild rice, but it also speaks quite eloquently of beneficial uses of wild rice. She wrote as follows:
"Manoomin and my people's ways are important to me. Both of those things are also endangered. That's why we (family, friends and relations) had to organize a group that would somehow try to protect this gift. Our food source and our culture are under attack by the state of Minnesota and other corporate interests. They only understand value in a monetary sense. That's why they have no qualms about poisoning our waters and our communities with the byproducts of manufacture, to the fullest extent possible. In the pursuit of financial gain, they have lost all sense of reason, judgment and perspective. We ask only that our manoomin beds be protected. So that the nourishment received from this plant to our people and our culture can continue to feed the spirit and body for generations to come.
And I could type for days trying to describe the sheer beauty of the season and all the sensory treasures it holds in store and I could go on even longer about how precious of a gift we consider our sacred food. This is one of the few times a year that our communities have an easier time simply existing. The work is hard but to have some free food, and to engage in the traditions of our ancestors and to really be connected to this good earth....well it makes up for all that sweat and strain, surely. This is the time of year when families get together, stories and jokes are told, the memory is flexed and (sometimes stretched) and the people are generally in good spirits. There is less of a financial strain and stress because of the rice that is sold. Many people are able to supplement their children's clothes, pay bills and maybe even buy a car to be able make it to school, job, next seasonal work, hospital and grocery store. For one time of the whiteman's billing year - it's not so hard making ends meet. These examples, and so many more, are why I love Manoominike giizis (the Wild Rice Moon) and our ricing culture."
Wild rice is an environmental resource. Healthy stands of wild rice are the barometer of a healthy ecosystem. But sulfates, which are released through the sulfide mining process, enter into rivers and lakes. The sulfates drift into the sediment where they convert into hydrogen sulfide that enters the root system of wild rice. Concentrations of sulfates that are over 10 parts per million of sulfate impairs the growth of wild rice resulting in withered leaves and smaller seeds; high concentrations of sulfates suffocate and kill wild rice. Macroinvertebrates, vegetation, flora, fish, waterfowl, and wildlife are impacted. Additionally, sulfate-reducing bacteria transforms into methyl mercury that leads to mercury fish contamination. Minnesota state law limits sulfate to 10 parts per million to protect wild rice. We are concerned that the nonferrous mining proposed for northern and central Minnesota will exceed the limits of the law and adversely affect the growth of wild rice.
There is approximately 48,200 acreage of wild rice within the ceded lands of the 1854 and 1855 treaties. Thousands of acreage will be impacted by sulfide mining. The combined total of wild rice in 1854 and 1855 ceded lands account for over three-quarters of the estimated total 64,000 wild rice acreage in Minnesota. Under the treaties, the Anishinaabeg maintain usufructuary rights to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice. These usufructuary rights were affirmed by the Supreme Court decision – Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band - in 1999. However, the issue of ceded lands has been marginalized by the nonferrous mining corporations that seek to build mining districts within ceded lands.
Protect Our Manoomin supports environmentally safe and responsible mining if the following criterion is met:
1. Responsible mining does not threaten to the St. Louis River Watershed and the Upper Mississippi Watershed.
2. Responsible mining does not threaten the economy of manoomin harvesters.
3. Responsible mining does not threaten/negatively impact the cultural heritage or survival of any local Native residents.
4. Responsible mining does not have the potential to harm Lake Superior in any way.
5. Responsible mining does not do irreparable damage to the ceded lands of the 1854 and 1855 treaties.
Protect Our Manoomin asks that you ensure that wild rice, Minnesota’s official state grain, is protected in regard to legislation that advances the development of nonferrous mining in Minnesota.
Robert DesJarlait, Director, Protect Our Manoomin.