Wild Rice is Mah-NO-min in Anishinaabeminowin. This is the Ojibwe language, the Native American tribe that predominates in the northern-most section of the Mississippi River. The min part of the word rhymes with “bit”. It means seed. The first part of the word is a contraction for Manido, spirit-giver of the traditionally important and sacred food grain. Manomin gave its name to the moon (month) of harvest, typically the end of August, early September in northern Minnesota: Manominikw Giizis, the month when it was harvested. Manomin is upon us near the headwaters of America’s Waterway.
This is the month of wild rice harvest on the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. For the Ojibwe, it’s a sacred and traditional time. For those of us along the Mississippi near the border with Canada, the Wild Rice Moon signals the change of seasons. And so it is this year, as the summer comes to a close and canoes can be seen being poled through the rice paddies that form a barrier to the higher reaches of the River’s headwaters.
This morning the local radio station, KAXE, carried the story of the wild rice harvest and its importance in today’s Ojibwe culture and economy. The spokesperson for the White Earth Reservation told of the Ojibwe’s effort to recast an economy based on natural resources such as wild rice. The Mississippi River starts within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, another Ojibwe center where ricing is part of a Native economy and part of a way of life.
The Wild Rice Moon will be in full force this Friday. Its strength and presence are already making themselves known throughout the woodlands. The moon’s fullness offsets the rapidly paling leaves, as summer turns to autumn and the Ojibwe and others seek to capture the last rays of summer inside the kernels of rice that fall heavily into canoes and other soundless water vehicles. Even the Mississippi, at its heart, seems to be closing a chapter and moving into its slumber, soundlessly and with only the fanfare of the moon.