Anishinaabe ‘Rights of Manoomin’ Laws Create Legal Basis to Protect Sacred Wild Rice

‘This would be the first law to recognize the legal rights of a plant species

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the 1855 Treaty Authority are taking action to address the growing threats to native wild rice, such as potential crude oil pipeline spills or the spread of genetically modified wild rice. They are establishing new laws and claiming treaty rights to protect their culture and sacred food.

The 1855 Treaty Alliance was established to protect the treaty rights of Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, White Earth, East Lake and Sandy Lake bands. The Alliance covers those lands the Anishinaabe ceded as part of their 1855 Treaty with the United States. (Among those treaty rights, bands claim the right to hunt, fish and gather — including harvesting wild rice — on ceded lands.)

According to a media statement from the 1855 Treaty Alliance:

Recently the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the 1855 Treaty Alliance adopted Rights of Manoomn for on and off reservation protection of wild rice and the clean, fresh water resources and habitats in which it thrives. The Rights of Manoomin were adopted because “it has become necessary to provide a legal basis to protect wild rice and fresh water resources as part of our primary treaty foods for future generations” …

White Earth and the 1855 Treaty Alliance drafted their resolutions with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) with its International Center for the Rights of Nature, according to the media release. Mari Margil, CELDF’s associate director, said the Rights of Manoomin resolutions were a big step forward for the Rights of Nature Movement: “This would be the first law to recognize the legal rights of a plant species,” she said.

Area covered by the 1855 Treaty. (Image from the Why Treaties Matter website.)

The White Earth Band ‘Rights of Manoomin’ Resolution

The White Earth Band passed the Rights of Manoomin ordinance to protect the wild rice within the reservation boundaries. According to the ordinance:

Manoomin, or wild rice, within the White Earth Reservation possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery, and preservation. These rights include, but are not limited to, the right to pure water and fresh water habitat; the right to a healthy climate system and a natural environment free from human-caused global warming impacts and emissions; the right to be free from patenting; as well as rights to be free from infection, infestation, or drift by any means from genetically engineered organisms, trans-genetic risk seed, or other seeds that hve been developed using methods other than traditional plant breeding.

The resolution went into effect upon signing. It states: “The Tribal Government shall take all necessary actions to protect, implement, defend and enforce the rights and prohibitions of this law.”

Wild ricing. (Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

Any business or government violating the law will be given the “maximum fine allowable under tribal law,” the resolution says. And they will be “liable for for any damages to the manoomin and its habitat caused by the violation.”

Further, the resolution bans law enforcement from “arresting or detaining persons directly enforcing these rights.”

The 1855 Treaty Alliance passed a separate resolution, with similar intent. It gives the following reasons for protecting manoomin:

WHEREAS, manoomin, or wild rice, is considered by the Anishinaabe people to be a gift from the Creator of Great Spirit and continues to be an important staple in the diets of native peoples for generations, is a central element of the culture, heritage, and history of the Anishinaabe people, and is an integral part of the wetland ecosystems and natural communities of our traditional lands ….

Unlike the White Earth resolution, it provides no specific legal remedies. It does say that the Alliance has “petitioned the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs seeking federal protection of their off-reservation rights.”

Stay tuned for the upcoming legal battles.

Anishinaabe Nations Rejected Minnesota’s Proposed Wild Rice Task Force, Created One of their Own

Anishinaabe bands and the state of Minnesota have had strained relationships over protecting wild rice. One example is Governor Dayton’s invitation to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribes to participate in the “Governor’s Task Force on Wild Rice.”

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribes consist of six Anishinaabe bands: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth. On August 21, 2018, they gave an emphatic “no” to Dayton’s invitation, on a 9-0 vote.

To understand why, here’s the composition of the Wild Rice Task Force Dayton proposed. It had 14 representatives:

  • Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (1)
  • Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (1)
  • Independent scientists with wild rice expertise (2)
  • Non-Native wild rice harvester (1)
  • Ferrous mining industry (1)
  • Non-ferrous mining industry (1)
  • Municipal waste water discharger (1)
  • Electric utility (1)
  • Statewide labor organization (1)
  • Environmental non-governmental organizations (2)
  • Ex-oficio members from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

So it was possible that for a 14-member Task Force, only two members would be indigenous and four would be water polluters.

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe asked Dayton to give a Task Force seat to each of its six bands. Dayton provided modest changes to the Task Force composition, but not enough to get buy-in.

The Minnesota’ Chippewa Tribe passed a resolution rejecting participation in the Governor’s Wild Rice Task Force on Aug. 21. It said the Task Force’s composition failed to respect the sovereignty of federally recognized Indian nations, relegating them instead to the status of “special interest group.” Further, it failed to acknowledge the fact the Anishinaabe people would be disproportionately harmed by any damage to wild rice and the waters where it grows.

Instead, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe voted to create its own Wild Rice Task Force, and invited other Native nations and communities to participate. The vision is to have a Task Force with two representatives each from the seven Anishinaabe bands: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, White Earth and Red Lake, as well as two each from the four Dakota communities: Lower Sioux, Upper Sioux, Prairie Island, and Shakopee Mdewakantan.

Click on the link for the resolution (above) for more details.

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