When the melting glaciers created Minnesota’s 10,000 (more than that, actually) lakes after the last ice age, they created a constellation of lakes, rivers, and streams that perfectly sustain manoomin, or wild rice.
Wild rice doesn’t grow in just any body of water; you need the perfect conditions, and we have them.
Millennia after the big thaw, our people — the Anishinaabe — moved from lands in the East.
A prophecy told us we would arrive at our new home when we found “where food grows on water.”
The food they found was wild rice. The area would become the Upper Midwest. They were home.
You can’t disconnect the North from the Indigenous people who have lived here since time immemorial.
Today, we see more Indigenous people in leadership — a recognition, I think, by non-Native Minnesotans that we are part of this state and part of this experience.
And that if we’re going to tell the whole story of what it means to be of the North, then we must include Indigenous voices and the people who were here before 1858.
To equate the North with identity is incomplete for me without also the almost literal connection I have to the place. I think of those perfect conditions needed for wild rice and know our famous harsh winters are part of that mix. In that spirit, my people were always going to make home in a place with seasons.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I’d have survived back then. My dad always gave me a hard time come winter. “My girl,” he’d begin. “I’m glad you were born now because you would’ve died in the bush.” Accurate.
Minnesotans take pride in our stirring resilience to face winter head on — it’s part of what makes the North the North. But for me, winter’s arrival also means the next ingredient needed to sustain generations of the Anishinaabe.
As I look out my Minnesota window in early December and see no snow, I worry. Climate change is warming our lakes, rivers, and streams — threatening the future of manoomin’s ability to grow there. Threatening the North. And we the people caused climate change.
Native people have been targets for extermination for centuries. But we’ve always survived. We are still here. The latest effort to erase us lies in the actions of all of us to harm this planet and make inhospitable the conditions for our way of life to survive.
When a friend of mine from the Southwest visited Minnesota in January years ago, she regaled the story of her cab driver’s warnings that it was frostbite weather. Cover your skin, he cautioned, or it would fall off.
“Why on Earth do you live here, girl?!?” she finally gasped. All I could think of was the Prince quote: “It’s so cold, it keeps the bad people out.”
Prince was half-right. We also need it to be cold to keep the Indigenous people and our manoomin in.