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Winona LaDuke, Published April 21 2012

Of rice, wolves and men

Recently at the Minnesota Legislature, the future of wolves was debated, and bad words were said. In hearings on the Omnibus Fish and Game bill, the wolf was discussed as “small game,” but as Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, noted, “This is not a squirrel, not a bunny ... a wolf is a wolf.” Gauthier stood on some difficult ground but stood pretty well, challenging other northern representatives to look at the issues.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, a co-sponsor of Bill 2717, which opens a wolf season, is sure that the only issue of interest to tribes is a racino in the cities. Noting he had heard nothing from tribal leadership on either wolves or a sulfate standard in relationship to wild rice, Gauthier asked if he had made an effort to speak to tribal elders, and Dill pointed out that he had never heard from them. Dill and other legislators appear to want to throw a bone to northern communities in an election year – promising jobs and revenue. The bone they throw seems to be a wolf bone.

In contrast, Gauthier expressed clear concern, noting the wolf is a part of Anishinaabe, or “cultural teachings,” and that “when we make laws, we make laws for all the people of Minnesota.”

Since Dill represents two tribal communities in his district, perhaps he, like other legislators, may wish to have a better understanding of the Anishinaabeg relationship to ma’iingan – the wolf, and more honestly discuss the issues of wolves, rice, men and mines – all of which are related in the debates at the Legislature.

It is said in Anishinaabeg prophecies: That which befalls the wolf will befall the Anishinaabeg. The decimation of the Anishinaabeg by plagues, starvation and federal policies closely mirrored the destruction of the ma’iingan. The limiting of territories to reservations for the Anishinaabeg, and, the wolves to a few refuges, and a few sparse patches of the north woods, occurred for both. Yet both have returned to the northland. The Anishinaabeg have a similar spiritual and cultural responsibility and connection to wild rice or manoomin.

Today, wolf and wild rice face threats as mining interests loom on the edges of territory, or seek to re-open old mines of in a renewed fervor of a minerals-based material economy. It is a time when relationships are changing. It is ironic that the two largest barriers to the wholesale mining of the north, may be manoomin, or wild rice, and the ma’iingan.

Or, to consider it another way: The delisting of an endangered species exactly in a region proposed for an aggressive minerals exploitation is convenient for mining corporations. All of the mines are proposed in ecologically sensitive areas, the Minnesota mines have thus far been rejected on water quality issues (forced by the high standards for wild rice), and all mining projects are within the wolf range.

The northern Wisconsin Tribes, in coordination with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission are opposing the delisting of the wolf. Red Lake Nation has determined that a wolf is part of a cultural and spiritually important, and is discussing a wolf sanctuary, and culturally based recognition, and White Earth reservation briefly discussed a wolf season, and is now looking to a more culturally based protection.

It is a time of new relationships and responsibilities. Those who have been scorned and ignored are coming home. As Joe Rose, Ojibwe tribal elder told a New York Times reporter, “… We see the wolf as a predictor of our future. And what happens to wolf happens to Anishinaabe.” He concludes by saying, “Whether other people see it or not, the same will happen to them.”

LaDuke is environmentalist, economist and writer, and executive director, White Earth (Minn.) Land Recovery Project.

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