How The Environment Has Shaped the State

From Sustenance to Leisure on Minnesota Land

Expert Essay: Associate professor of history Michael J. Lansing, published in Environmental History as well as Ethics, Place, and Environment, highlights the many ways people have made use of Minnesota's flora and fauna over time and reviews the state's more recent efforts at conservation.

Wild rice harvest on Mud Lake

Citizens of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe harvest rice on Mud Lake, located on the Leech River, seventeen miles downstream of Leech Lake Dam, on September 3, 2015. USACE photo by George Stringham. Public domain.

Wild Rice and the Ojibwe

Wild rice is a food of great historical, spiritual, and cultural importance for the Ojibwe people. After colonization disrupted their traditional food system, however, they could no longer depend on stores of wild rice for food all year round. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, this traditional staple was appropriated by white entrepreneurs and marketed as a gourmet commodity. Native and non-Native people alike began to harvest rice to sell it for cash, threatening the health of the natural stands of the crop. This lucrative market paved the way for domestication of the plant, and farmers began cultivating it in paddies in the late 1960s. In the twenty-first century, many Ojibwe and other Native people are fighting to sustain the hand-harvested wild rice tradition and to protect wild rice beds.

Boy treading wild rice

Boy treading wild rice

An Ojibwe boy treading wild rice, ca. 1938.

Men harvesting wild rice

Men harvesting wild rice

Ojibwe men in a canoe harvesting wild rice, ca. 1915.

Wild rice growing at Nett Lake

Wild rice growing at Nett Lake

Wild rice growing at Nett Lake. Photograph by Monroe P. Killy, September 1, 1946. Minnesota Historical Society, Collection I.69.121.

International Wolf Center, Ely

Footage of wolves at the International Wolf Center in Ely filmed by Linda A. Cameron in 2019.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is located on the Minnesota–Ontario international border and is Minnesota’s only national park. Established in 1975, it is a 341-square-mile network of lakes and streams surrounding the Kabetogama Peninsula. Though the region has been home to various Indigenous nations for countless generations, the park is named for the predominantly French Canadian voyageurs (travelers) who transported furs and other trade goods between hubs like Montreal and points further west.

Day-use sites within Voyageurs National Park

Day-use sites within Voyageurs National Park

Map of day-use sites with Voyageurs National Park, 2016. National Park Service, public domain.

Namakan Lake

Namakan Lake

Namakan Lake in Voyageurs National Park. National Park Service, ca. 2010s. Public domain.

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