American Indian Initiatives

Nibi and Manoomin Symposium

A partnership between reservation communities of the upper Midwest and the University of Minnesota, this group works to build understanding within the university of the significant role that wild rice (manoomin, Zizania palustris) plays within the communities of the Anishinaabe people of the upper Midwest and Cree of Canada, and the threats to wild rice in the future. The next symposium will be held in Fall 2022. Please check back for more details.

Kawe Gidaa-Naanaagadawendaamin Manoomin/Psiη Project

First. We Must Consider Manoomin/Psiη 

Launched in January 2018, this project is a collaboration among tribes, intertribal treaty organizations, and University of Minnesota faculty, staff, and students, that prioritizes tribal views on the cultural significance and ecology of Manoomin / Psiη (Wild Rice), and the policies related to it. A flagship for environmental preservation and Indigenous resource sovereignty, the project aims to center tribal perspectives and research questions.

Wild Rice Research Database (in development)

Wild rice (Manoomin) has flourished in the cool waters of Minnesota for thousands of years. More than a nutritional food, wild rice is a central feature in the spiritual and cultural lives of the Dakota, Menominee and Ojibwe people. Minnesota features more acres of natural wild rice than any other state in the country and, in the 1950s, the University of Minnesota studied wild rice production on a small scale. By 1973, the University officially established a wild rice research program which helped lead to the growth of Minnesota’s commercial wild rice industry. Throughout its history, this program has led to new varieties, best practices, nutritional data and water (nibi) quality research, among other discoveries. In this database, you will find documents related to the wild rice research done at the University of Minnesota dating back to the 1960s. Please note: This site is in development and available for demonstration purposes only. Data sets are not deemed complete, nor can the University of Minnesota guarantee that all represented features will be available in the released site.

Native American Medicine Garden 

Article by: CFANS Alumna Madeline Giefer, '15

Tucked between Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues on the St. Paul campus lie the little-known Native American medicine garden. Run by Native caretakers in the Native American tradition, these gardens represent hope for a sustainable food system and the healing of Native peoples whose health and traditions have been devastated by the loss of their ancestral environments. Visitors to the Gardens are free to take edible and medicinal plants for personal use, with the intention that they reflect upon the true sources of their own food and the importance of food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty, a central principle behind the garden, is the ability of an individual or community to sustain itself on its own land as Native American nations did before settlers converted much of it for agriculture. Even after some of the land was returned to the tribe, the unfamiliar new ecosystem and lack of agricultural tradition forced them into dependence upon outside food, which today consists primarily of inexpensive processed meals supplemented by D-grade commodities guaranteed by a nineteenth-century treaty with the U.S. government. Grief over this loss of lifestyle and the resulting health crisis runs high, and gardens like these are part of a movement toward the return of a healthier community and a healthier environment. As Gardens Director Francis Bettelyoun expresses, “The Gardens are part of healing ourselves and Mother Earth.”

The garden's message of food sovereignty not only applies to disadvantaged Native peoples; it also points to the lack of subsistence across Western society. “We all have our handout. We are all part of a welfare system,” says Bettelyoun, referring to a universal dependence upon store bought food, “If that food wasn’t there, what would you do? It’s time to start thinking in that way… We are not a free people; we are dependent upon somebody else feeding us, and we don’t have the ability not to work for food that we could be growing on our own.”

The garden aim to show how people can reclaim responsibility for their own well-being by growing some of their own food in a way that restores the quality of the land. Caretakers plant many of the same perennials that helped Native communities flourish for centuries. They fertilize the soil with rock dust, a powder of finely ground rocks that recharges soil minerals, plus manure and other organic soil amendments, that make the plants more fruitful and nutritious. This style of gardening is highly sustainable as a single application of rock dust can restore nutrients for many seasons to come, while the native perennials will thrive naturally and maintain soil fertility better than other plants.

The garden welcomes all community members to partake by assisting with care taking, attending learning sessions, taking portions of plants for personal use, or simply coming to meditate and enjoy the tranquility of the site.