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Where the Wild Rice Grows

ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON in the last days of summer, I broke the first rule I had ever been taught about watercraft and stood up in a canoe. Mike Magney and Moon Jacobson of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe had offered to take me out onto Little Elbow Lake and show me the wild-rice harvest—not as a past-tense reenactment, we agreed, but in a present-tense this is how we do it sort of way. So as their canoe shot surely ahead into a thick stand of rice, I heaved my weight onto a 12-foot-long pole in an attempt to keep up. The wind took fierce bites out of the water, working against me. Cotton-batting clouds sped across the blue gel of the sky. The northern Minnesota wild-rice harvest takes place during a two-week sliver of September, and the racing wind heightened our urgency.

PLUNGING ONE KNOCKER INTO THE RICE STAND, MOON PARTED THE STALKS LIKE HAIR, BENDING A THICK HANK OVER HIS LAP WITH ONE HAND AND NEATLY SWEEPING OFF ITS LOOSE SEED HEAD SWITH THE OTHER.

We were at Sahkahtay, an annual wildrice camp hosted by members of the Ojibwe tribe, one of the largest groups of Indigenous people north of Mexico, most of whom live in a long arc that stretches from the upper Midwest to Quebec.

Jacobson was at the three-day festival to teach ricing skills to the next generation and to harvest his own 50 pounds—“about half of what my grandma calls a year’s supply.” He grew up in Minneapolis but spent a

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