As part of Michigan Indian Day, today’s MI Environment story recounts a recent visit by EGLE’s director to Tawas Lake, where the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is undertaking a wild rice restoration project. Michigan Indian Day is observed on the fourth Friday in September to honor the significant contributions that Native American tribes have made in American history — particularly in the state of Michigan.
Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and several other EGLE staffers recently joined the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Environmental Team and Tribal Council Sergeant-at-Arms Dave Merrill, Jr. on a visit to the wild rice restoration project at Tawas Lake.
Katie Hager, environmental outreach specialist for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, explains the wild rice restoration project at Lake Tawas to EGLE Director Liesl Clark and others.
An important part of the wild rice restoration project is the control of invasive species. That has involved hand-removing individual Eurasian Watermilfoil plants from the lakebed in Tawas to protect the wild rice — square-foot by square-foot by square-foot.
The Tribe now has available equipment on a specially-rigged pontoon that features giant suction hoses that bring weeds onto the boat for automated bagging and booms that prevent fragmented weeds from escaping the area to seed and spread in other places. That method helps preserve the wild rice in a way that does not use harmful chemicals to control the invasive species.
“I am so appreciative of the Saginaw Chippewa tribal leaders and environmental staff who hosted my EGLE colleagues and me for on a beautiful day on Tawas Lake,” said Director Clark. “Witnessing the largest wild rice bed in the state, learning about the central place wild rice plays in the culture and history of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, and spending time with good people who share a strong commitment to the environment was very enriching and rewarding. We look forward to our continued work with Tribal Nations and the Michigan Wild Rice Initiative to help protect and restore manoomin in Michigan.”
Wild rice, also referred to as manoomin, has ecological, social, cultural and economic value in the state, specifically and most particularly for the Native Americans in the region. The tribes consider themselves caretakers with responsibility for protecting wild rice.
Unfortunately, there are many threats to manoomin, such as climate change, development, and invasive species. Sustaining Michigan’s Water Heritage: A Strategy for the Next Generation (Water Strategy) recognized the importance of manoomin in 2016, when it recommended that the state work with federally recognized tribes and other stakeholders with an interest in preserving and enhancing manoomin resources across the state “to elevate the recognition, protection and restoration of native wild rice stands throughout the state.” (Recommendation #11). In 2018, these groups came together to form the Michigan Wild Rice Initiative which brings together specialist and managers from all 12 federally-recognized tribes, multiple state departments and federal agencies, and others to share information, coordinate approaches, and elevate awareness about wild rice conservation and restoration.