"Where Food Grows On The Water": Anishinaabe Wild Rice Restoration, Food Sovereignty, And Decolonization

Rachel Sabella, Undergraduate


In this project I argue that the wild rice restoration projects in the Great Lakes region contribute to the reversal of direct effects of colonization brought on as a result of the Columbian Invasion of the Americas. My primary research question is as follows: In the current organization of this country, is there a way to scale these models of food activism to work diligently within the Great Lakes region to mitigate direct results of colonialism? Wild rice has been a staple of Anishinaabe diet and culture for over two thousand years, but the industrialization of the region led to the decline of wild rice populations and severely diminished the availability of wild rice to the communities that depend on it (Barton 2018). I will show that efforts to conserve, protect, and restore wild rice populations take a step toward reversing the effects of colonization and in turn form food sovereign communities. I demonstrate this correlation with data from primary sources published by those leading the restoration projects, and secondary sources published by academics. With its roots in fights to regain access to land, forming food sovereign cultures is essential because it recenters Indigenous foodways and knowledge, while challenging the current food system models we have, that are grounded in the dominionistic practices of industry and endless pursuit of capital (Coté 2016). The concept and acts of decolonization, I argue, support efforts such as achieving food sovereignty. That is, to achieve food sovereignty is to decolonize. I support this claim by using qualitative data from interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people connected to the Great Lakes region or cultures. As decolonization efforts become more prominent among broad networks of activism, especially among networks of food sovereignty, this paper offers a useful case study on the relationship between the effects of colonization and the efforts to reverse them.