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Centuries before French explorers first saw Wild Rice growing profusely in the shallow lakes and rivers of Minnesota and southern Manitoba and Ontario, the Chippewa and Sioux tribes harvested the grain each fall, relying on it as a stable food to see them through the harsh northern winters.
Wild Rice or “Manomin” (meaning “good berry”), as Native Americans called it, was a unique and important part of their diet due to its high protein content, ease of storage, and indefinite shelf-life. It often meant the difference between life and death for the Native Americans during the long, cold winter months. Many bloody battles were fought between tribes for control of the wild rice stands.
During late summer, Chippewa and Sioux set up their camps along lakes and rivers containing large “beds” of rice, in preparation for the fall harvest, explaining why on the Indian calendar the September moon is called the “Wild Rice Moon.” Commercialization of wild rice began in the early 1600s, by voyagers and fur traders. They described it as “wild oats,” as the kernels of rice are surrounded by a hull – much like oats – and at harvest time a good stand of wild rice resembles a grain field from a distance. Wild Rice soon became very valuable to these early explorers as a food supply and trade good.