Manoomin: Food that Grows on the Water

The side profile of an older gentleman wearing a hat and sunglasses and trimming a bush.

In English, it’s called “wild rice”; in the languages spoken by Anishinaabe people, a culturally related group that includes the Ojibwe, Chippewa, and other indigenous peoples, the food is called “manoomin.” (If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to pick out the word “Anishinaabe” in the invocation/prayer spoken at the beginning of the video.) This manoomin has tremendous importance to the Anishinaabe people, not only for its high nutritional value, but also for its cultural significance. 21st century technology and socio-political conditions in the Anishinaabe region are encroaching on the relationship between manoomin and the people who rely on it for material and spiritual sustenance. In this video, Fred Ackley Jr. of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community describes the gathering of manoomin and explains its significance; the video was produced in February 2020 by PBS Wisconsin Education.

Watch it here.


1. In addition to describing the manoomin and its significance, Ackley makes a subtle argument. What is his argument? Summarize it briefly. Would the argument have been more effective if it had been more direct, more explicit? Why or why not?

2. In addition to Ackley’s invocation/prayer spoken in Ojibwemowin, in his English narration describing how he gathers the manoomin, he uses a Chippewa term, miigwech. How does he incorporate the term into his narration? Does he make the term clear enough for viewers who may not speak Chippewa? Why might Ackley have chosen to code switch, to say miigwech? Do you think it was an effective rhetorical choice? Why or why not?

3. LET’S TALK. Is there a particular food that has unique significance in your family, culture, or spiritual tradition? Is it a single ingredient? A specially prepared dish? Is it a year-round staple like manoomin? Is it only for a certain holiday or occasion? Do you enjoy eating it? (You may not, and that’s ok, too.) Finally, what significance, if any, does this food have for you personally, for your identity? Think about these questions and share your responses among two or three classmates. Do any of you identify the same food? Does it have the same meaning? Do any of you share the same personal significance, even though the foods are different? What is the relationship between food and identity?

4. LET’S WRITE. Ackley and his community feel a very special relationship to the manoomin; they establish their homes near where it grows. What grows of its own accord (without the cultivation of seeds procured from elsewhere) close to where you live? How easily were you able to answer that question? Using the previous two questions as a springboard, reflect and write an essay describing your current relationship to the place where you live—your environment—with regard to its edible resources. Are you satisfied with that relationship? Are there any changes or adjustments you might like to make? Why or why not? Incorporate your responses to these final questions in your essay. 

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