How wild rice is solving food insecurity on a Manitoba First Nation

A new agriculture initiative is looking to reintroduce a crop back to a Manitoba First Nation as it grew hundreds of years ago.

What started as University of Manitoba master’s student, Uche Nwankwo’s research project has grown into tackling one of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation’s biggest concerns – food security.

The project is looking to reintroduce wild rice, also known as manoomin, which translates to “good berry” in Ojibwe, back to the First Nation.

“The current things happening in the world with inflation and uncertainty of the times we are in, it would be in the best interest of our nation to start producing our own foods and bring our traditional food back to the lands,” said Brenda Greyeyes, the First Nation’s employment and training manager, who also runs the local food bank.

The project took 50 pounds of wild rice seeds and scattered it along the river in Brokenhead last year, which will be ready to harvest come summer.

On Friday, those running the project met with community members to determine what they’ll do with the rice.

“Part of this community cafe is to discuss what the day one is. Is it to harvest it through the traditional method and then process it through the traditional method?” asked Nwankwo.

Brokenhead Chief Gordon BlueSky said the project is just one of the many ways the First Nation is looking to rejuvenate its agricultural spirit.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our young people to see how food security in action can begin in our community, and it’s really exciting because of the opportunities it does provide,” said BlueSky.

As the project grows, Nwankwo said the wild rice could be sold, creating a home-grown economic boost.

“There can be product in the local store and there can be more employment opportunity to process it, brand it, designing the labels, etc. It grows the economy,” added Nwankwo.


Another project involving the University of Manitoba called Kitigay is also helping grow food in Brokenhead.

As part of the internship program, 12 students are helping to grow fruits and vegetables at a farm inside the First Nation.

“They actually started a farm,” said Shirley Thompson, Kitigay education coordinator for the University of Manitoba. “It included perennials like garlic, also berries and annuals as well.

Last year, the farm also included chickens, keeping around 100 egg-laying birds.

“Experiential learning is key. They are learning it in class, and that next day they are practicing it, so it’s absolutely important,” said Thompson.

This year, the students will help plant 177 orchard trees, which will then be used to feed the community.

“I run our local food bank here in Brokenhead, and I’ve ordered a lot of equipment to process those vegetables we are going to grow in the community. So the idea is to provide our nation with healthy food,” said Greyeyes.

The students will return to the farm on May 1.

BlueSky says Brokenhead is also working to bring back bison to the area as the First Nation moves to become more self-sustaining.

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