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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 1, 2003 - Issue 99


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Fond du lac Follies

by Jim Northrup - (Pamida, Jim)
credits: photos courtesy of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC)

Ezigaa and I went ricing. It was his first time on Perch Lake as a ricer; we could call it a rite of passage for this young Anishinaabe boy. I am proud of my 13 year-old son. I remembered back to when I was his age when I went ricing for the first time.

We loaded up the truck with the tools we would need. The aluminum canoe was first, then the tamarack pole with the diamond willow fork. I gave him my cedar knockers to use. I checked and made sure we had water and a lunch. I also brought a paddle.

The day was sunny with a slight wind from the west.

Harvesting Wild RiceAt the rice landing I could see other ricers already in the lake ready to begin ricing. It smelled like lake there. The lake looked like the cliché amber waves of grain. I saw how the wind had leaned the rice in one direction. I told Ezigaa how I was going to zig zag into the wind until I got to the other side of the lake. I also told him how I wanted to hear the knockers saying shush-shush, shush-shush, shush-shush, and not shush … shush … shush.

It just felt right to be doing what we were doing. We offered tobacco in gratitude.

I saw a V of geese and ducks flying into the wind. I also noticed there were a lot more ricers than there used to be five years ago. Maybe because the Rez was buying rice at the landing for four bucks a pound? I could hear the sound of his rice knockers hitting the rice, also the sound of the rice hitting the inside of the canoe. We could hear other ricers laughing and talking.

When we got to the western end of the lake I turned the canoe around and headed east. It was easy poling with the wind. Ezigaa was knocking on both sides of the canoe. I looked at the rice he had harvested. The bottom of the canoe was covered and the rice was bearding up, looked like a porcupine quilt.

I told my son we could take a break whenever he wanted. I didn't want this to seem like hard work. I called the first break, actually that day I called all of the breaks except when he called one because he was hungry. We ate our lunch while sitting in the middle of the rice. I showed my boy how I like to strip rice with my fingers while just sitting there.

At one point in our travels around the lake I got hung up on a mud flat. My boy learned how hard it is to pole a canoe in a mud flat. We finished the day on the lake and were satisfied with the amount of rice we had gathered. We rode home and spread the rice out on a tarp so it could dry. Ezigaa removed the debris from the rice as I got the fire ready.

Parching Wild RiceI built the fire in the pit in the yard. I rolled the huge kettle over to the fire and propped it up at an angle. My son brought a basket of rice to the kettle and put it inside. I began stirring and flipping the rice as it parched. The wood fire smelled just fine, as did the smell of parching rice. The rice made a swishing sound as I parched it, keeping it moving in the kettle. After the rice was parched we put it away and got ready for the second day of the harvest.

We went to Dead Fish Lake where one of my grandfathers was raised. I felt connected to the old ways, old days. It was almost like my grampa was watching and approving of what we were doing on the lake.

An eagle flew over in anti-clockwise circles. He was flying low enough so we could see his white head and white tail.

We had a better second day of ricing. My boy knocked twice as much rice as he did the first day. He said he was getting the hang of it. I could hear the pride in his voice.

We brought the rice home where we dried it in the sun for a little while. Once again we used the black cast iron kettle to parch the rice. We then danced on it, rubbing the rice to grind the hulls off.

We usually have to dance and fan the rice three times. I like watching the color change from brown of the hulls to the green of the rice. We cleaned the rice by taking out the grains that still had the hulls on after the dancing and fanning.

Ezigaa is now a ricer.

The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone. Comments and bingo packs can be sent to:

FdL Follies
PO Box 16,
Sawyer, MN 55780
web page:

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