STRONG Manoomin Collective

Anishinaabeg minwendamoog noondawindwaa.
The Anishinaabeg, they are happy that they are heard.

Strengthening Resilience of Ojibwe Nations across Generations (STRONG). Our vision is to develop cyber, scientific, and community foundations to ensure 7th-generation sustainability and enhance disaster anticipation, preparation, mitigation, and response in Indigenous communities of the Western Great Lakes. We bring together tribes, conservationists, and researchers around Manoomin (wild rice) as a pillar of Ojibwe culture and livelihood and as a keystone sentinel species for understanding and conserving Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

Project Context: Threats to Wellbeing and Resilience from Cultural, Food, and Water (in)Security

Manoomin (wild rice, Zizania palustris) is a keystone indicator of Ojibwe resilience that reflects Ojibwe Nations’ abilities to anticipate, respond to, and mitigate environmental change and disasters. Manoomin is an annual aquatic grass whose abundance, health, and distribution rely on its relationships with the Four Orders

Manoomin requires weather and water conditions conducive to reseeding (physical world), balance with submergent and emergent perennials that can easily outcompete manoomin (plant world), stewardship by rail birds that frequent rice beds and feed on plant-damaging insects (animal world), and seasonal harvesting that facilitates reseeding (human world) (Loew 2013; Meeker 1993; Pillsbury and McGuire 2009). 

Similarly, Ojibwe Nations rely on Manidoo Gitiganning, spirit gardens or wild rice beds, to provide sustenance, maintain cultural practices, and connect Ojibwe communities through spiritual relationships. Manoomin is present as a food at every Ojibwe ceremony; it is offered to the people and to the spirits as part of a spirit dish. The significance of manoomin for Ojibwe health, culture, and spirituality cannot be overstated: as manoomin declines, so too can the core relationships that maintain the Four Orders.

Our program is organized into four themes. These concurrent and synergistic themes engage a broad network of researchers and practitioners in academia, industry, non-profits, government agencies, and tribal partners with significant capability and expertise.

Project Activities and Themes

Theme 1: Sensing and Data Science. Builds new sensing capability and data science tools to support all hub activities. By creating new sources of data in the Western Great Lakes region, we can generate new understanding about connections between physical processes, ecosystem factors, and human activity. This theme captures data from all four orders, physical, plants and wildlife, and human, to aid other themes.

Theme 2: Physical and Environmental Processes. Integrates new sensing capabilities (from Theme 1) with Tribal knowledge (from Themes 3 and 4) to uncover fundamental processes that organize coastal wetland ecosystems, including interrelationships between climate, land use, habitat conditions, and feedback from plant growth at multiple spatial and temporal scales. This theme addresses critical uncertainties about how perturbations to these processes – e.g., climate change, land development – are causing widespread declines in manoomin, which serves as a sentinel species for environmental degradation of wetlands across the region.

Theme 3: Governance, Social, and Human Dimensions. Investigates the governance systems that guide decision-making and manage the social and human dimensions of manoomin resilience. Currently, hundreds of Tribal, governmental, private, and community agencies and organizations govern the manoomin range using a complicated, sometimes overlapping and often competing set of public and private treaties, laws, regulations, policies, and norms, which operate at different governance levels. This theme explores the ways such fragmented governance presents challenges for advancing Manoomin resilience and includes generating institutional and policy analyses that can inform Tribal-led and data-driven, cooperative governance arrangements. 

Theme 4: Community Engagement, Communication, and Education. Strengthens relationships between university researchers, Tribal entities, and conservation organizations. The theme brings together longstanding leaders in Indigenous education and community engagement. Manoomin is a particularly relevant topic to engage Tribal youth in science because manoomin is central to the identity of Ojibwe people. This theme leverages the deep connection to manoomin and the power of storytelling, to engage the community and students of all ages with the scientific process.