“The Lakota was a true naturist — a lover of nature.  He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age.  The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power..The old Lakota was wise.  He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.  So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.”       ~ Chief Luther Standing Bear

The subject of Native American land stewardship could fill more than a few blogs or books.  There are the stories of pre-European interactions with Native Americans, and there are present-day reservations with casinos, clearcuts, and also some of the most important conservation lands in the United States.  This week’s blog will not focus in the pros or cons of Native American stewardship, but will rather celebrate one of numerous land restoration projects undertaken by a tribe in the mid-west.  The following information is from the American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges website:

The most important traditional food for the Ojibwe people of northern Minnesota is wild rice, yet much of the wild rice habitat has been lost over the last century, more than 50% across the Great Lakes region.  At one time, Ojibwe members could harvest wild rice growing on small Ogechie Lake, one of three lakes formed along the Rum River.  The lake once produced tens of thousands pounds of wild rice — manoomin.  According to Archeologist Colleen Wells, “The word manoomin almost has the sense of a life force.  It has been so entwined in the culture that it obviously can’t be seen as simply a food resource.” Ecologically, wild rice is deemed critical to the biodiversity of the lakes and rivers of the mid-west.  Their dense stalks provide roosting and nesting and loafing areas and brood cover for waterfowl, and nesting habitat for other avian species.  the long nutritious grains are a large part of the diet for many migratory birds, while mammals such as muskrat utilize the tender stalks for both food and creation of their lodges.

In the 1950’s a dam was installed, raising the lake’s water more than three feet, higher than the rice was able to grow and flooding an ecological, economic and cultural legacy.

Today, sixty years later, wild rice may flourish anew on Ogechie Lake as a result of an agreement between the Ojibwe tribe and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

A good 1,500 miles west in Washington State, Yakama Fish Habitat Restoration Biologist extraordinaire Scott Nicolai, and I watch as logs are placed in the Yakima River in an area where juvenile salmon have little hiding cover.

Two weeks later we return and count 74 juvenile salmon hiding under the logs.

A colleague recently told me that Euro-Americans consider land as ownership, while the Native Americans consider land as stewardship.  ~