The Harvest of “green” (unripe) Wild Rice is Unlawful


The DNR website gives information about the rules that governor wild rice harvesting within the State of MN, for State harvesters.  The wild rice lakes within the reservations are managed strictly by tribal wild rice councils, elders and leaders.  Wild rice ethics and protocol is communicated very clearly when it comes to tribal harvesting.  So I am here to explain more about my interpretation of what the MN DNR means by, " the harvest of green unripe wild rice is unlawful."  

So let me tell you a bit about this. 

  • when you go out to harvest wild rice a percentage of wild rice falls into the lake to naturally re-seed itself. When you try to harvest before the seeds have a chance to mature, you lessen good seed for next years crop.
  • as a wild rice finisher I have noticed that there will be a higher percentage of breakage and lower percent yield when novice harvester go out too early, its exciting when the season opens but that doesn't mean the individual beds are ready
  • the wild rice will ripen during different days in the season and will vary throughout the lakes and rivers, certain beds will be ready earlier than others, be thoughtful and aware of the differences of each wild rice bed
  • you can damage the plant before the rest of the seed will mature.  Within the Savage Family we have always poled from the front of the boat.  Some say it is harder, but as you learn that technique, you will find that it is easier and will leave less of a trail as you go through.  Please tread lightly in the rice bends that families have been harvesting for generations.
  • You might try to experiment with this technique.  So growing up, elders in the FDL community taught me to lay a empty pop can in the bottom of the boat, to listen for kernels of wild rice hitting the can to determine if the wild rice falling into the boat is ripe.  There will be a specific sound the ripe rice will make.
  • Another way, drop a few kernels into the water and the rice will dart its self into the water to see it go straight into the mud.  If it's partially ripe it will not go straight it will flutter.

Here on the Fond du Lac Reservation we have relied on generational wild rice harvesters with experience to determine when we can go out and harvest.

Unfortunately, you might wait too long and a storm will take it down.  It doesn't go to waste, it goes into the lake and seeds the next years crop.  

Finally, if you don't know what you are doing watch and learn from experienced people.  It's not only unlawful to harvest rice when its not ripe but Foolish.

Miigwech for listening,

Bruce M. Savage