|The Onaway Trust|
White Earth Land Recovery Project
Onaway's basic practical objective is to provide seed grants to Native American organisations whose aim is to increase indigenes' self-esteem through self-sufficiency initiatives. This finds an ideal home with the Ojibway* Indian White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP). *(Also known as Annishinaabeg.)
WELRP is an independent non-profit organisation seeking to recover lost homelands of the Annishinaabeg people on the White Earth Indian Reservation, Minnesota. Founded in 1989 by tribal member, Winona La Duke, the WELRP experienced steady growth and has witnessed a significant strengthening of local Indian culture and economy. Today, local schools participate in a wide variety of education programmes including Ojibwe language classes, 'Undoing Racism' workshops, alternative energy programmes and many other subjects aimed at preserving their culture whilst promoting a well-balanced community.
Winona La Duke writes: "Our land is Mino-Aki (good land) whose biodiversity is essential to the health and spiritual well-being of our people. For this reason we seek to reclaim the land of White Earth Reservation which was stolen from us through unethical tax foreclosures, treaty abrogations and property thefts in the 1800s and early 1900s. Consequently, our White Earth ecosystems are being continually degraded by corporate farming and logging."
To regain Ojibway stolen lands, WELRP's key strategy is to purchase back land from non-Indian owners, and through donated land from persons who no longer wish to maintain their properties on White Earth Reservation. It is a sad fact that currently only ten percent of the White Earth Reservation is held by Anishinaabeg Indians.
Winona La Duke explains: "In this way, acre by acre, we will restore our land base, protect our ancestor's graves and create a wider sustainable, traditional harvest-based economic foundation for members of our community. White Earth Land Recovery Project continues in the spirit of this movement, seeking to recover the original land base of the Reservation for collective, sustainable agricultural purposes." During the last few years, to further strengthen Ojibway local economy, Onaway has financially supported an essential Wild Rice processing unit.
Winona La Duke writes: "Mahnomin (Wild Rice ) is sacred to our people. It was given to us by the Creator. It has sustained our bodies and souls for generations. Our production and processing of wild rice is rooted in our need to continue our cultural traditions while maintaining a source of nutritious food for our community. In an era of immense globalisation, loss of biodiversity, and genetic engineering, it is also critical that we preserve the biological integrity of native wild rice. Each year we work to recover more of who we are as a people and to ensure that that knowledge is shared in our community. So it is with wild rice."
The Origins of Wild Rice by Winona La Duke
As the story is told, Nanaboozhoo, the cultural hero of the Anishinaabeg was introduced to rice by fortune and by a duck:
One evening Nanaboozhoo returned from hunting, but he had no game. As he came towards his fire, there was a duck sitting on the edge of his kettle of boiling water. After the duck flew away, Nanaboozhoo looked into the kettle and found wild rice floating upon the water, but he did not know what is was. He ate his supper from the kettle and it was the best soup he had ever tasted. Later, he followed in the direction which the duck had taken and came to a lake full of manoomin. He saw all kinds of duck and geese and mud-hens and all the other water birds eating the grain. After that, when Nanaboozhoo did not kill a deer, he knew where to find food to eat. Manoomin, or wild rice, is a gift given to the Anishinaabeg from the Creator, and is a centre piece of the nutrition and sustenance for our community. The word Manoomin itself contains a reference to the Creator who is referred to as Gichi Manidoo. In the earliest of teachings of Anishinaabeg history, there is a reference to wild rice, known as the food which grows upon the water. The food, their ancestors were told to find so they would know when to end their migration west. It is this profound and historic relationship which is remembered in the wild rice harvest on the White Earth and other reservations - a food which is uniquely ours, and a food which is used in our daily lives, our ceremonies, and our thanksgiving feasts.
"The man rises to stand, head just above the tall stalks of rice. The woman pulls the rice over her lap with one stick and gently raps it with a second." - Winona La Duke
"There are many wild rice lakes on the White Earth Reservation in north-western Minnesota. The Chippewa Indians, or Anishinabeg as we refer to ourselves, call the rice "Mahnomin," or gift from the Creator. More than half our people on the reservation harvest wild rice, depending on it for as much as 40 percent of their yearly incomes." - Winona La Duke
"When we were kids we all chipped in and helped our mother with literally surviving. We gardened, picked berries, riced and hunted and fished. We used to parch our own rice the old way in the woods. It seems as though we were always working in the garden, hoeing and weeding." - Richard LaGarde - Ojibway
"The wild rice harvest of the Anishinaabeg not only feeds the body, it feeds the soul, continuing a tradition which is generations old for these people of the lakes and rivers of the north." - Winona La Duke
For more information about the White Earth Land Recovery Project, visit their website