What is ‘Manoomin,’ and Why Is It About To Be Michigan’s State Grain?
For states with rich agricultural cultures, it's not uncommon to have a state grain. For example, Kansas's state grain is wheat, and for Iowa and Illinois, it's corn.
Currently, Michigan does NOT have a state grain, despite it's very robust, and diverse agriculture history. But that's about to change, and it's likely a grain you've never heard of... manoomin.
What is Manoomin?
Simply put,, it's a form of wild rice, and actually goes by a number of different names. But to the early indigenous tribes of Michigan, it was called "Manoomin."
In its natural form, it simply looks like a type of grass that grows in slow moving-shallow waters with a "feathery" tastle at the top. You'll often see it in small lakes and streams. So, it's no surprise that it's very prevalent in Michigan.
The rice grows wild, annually in the Great Lakes Region, as well as forest regions in northern Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada. You can also find it in Idaho, strangely enough.
Why is it important to Michigan?
In the early settlements by indigenous tribes around the Great Lakes, the would harvest the wild grain by canoeing into a stand of plants, bend the ripe plants over the boat, and use small wooden poles, or stick called "knockers" to softly thresh the seeds into the canoe.
The Ojibwe religiously, and regularly used the plant. They considered it a sacred component of their culture, and named it "Manoomin," meaning "Harvesting Berry."
And it's not just the Ojibwe who hold it sacred. Other Anishinaabe tribes, including the Algonquin, Mississaugas, Mipissing, Odawa, and Potawatomi people have strong cultural ties to the grain, and originally made their homes around the Great Lakes.
Why make it the State Grain Now?
Michigan has made a conservative effort to grow its relationships with the indigenous people of the region, and almost symbolically, on the first day of November, which is also Native American Heritage Month, the Senate passed a bill, 28-10, to make Manoomin the first official State Grain of Michigan.
State Senator Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, spoke recently regarding the symbolism behind their actions.
"Many hundreds of years ago, people walking this land would search out, would identify, would cultivate, they would depend upon manoomin to get them through our long winters."
Senate Bill 802 was introduced back in January by Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit. Now that the Senate has signed it, the bill just needs approval by the State House of Representatives, and can be signed into existence.
In addition to recognizing the importance, and cultural impact of the grain on the state, making it the official Grain of Michigan would grant it additional safeguards for protection. In recent years, Manoomin was in danger as crews attempted to build the Enbridge Line 3 oil sands pipeline through a large area of the grain's habitat.
This isn't the first time the state of Michigan has tried to do this. Previously a bill was introduced in early 2022, but did not make progress under a, then, Republican-led legislature.
Michigan Counties with Made Up Indigenous Names
Gallery Credit: Google Earth