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The dispute over wild rice: an investigation of treaty agreements and Ojibwe food sovereignty


The treaties established between the United States federal government and American Indian nations imply U.S. recognition of Native political sovereignty. Political sovereignty encompasses not only the ability to govern oneself but also self-determination regarding resource use, including food. This paper addresses The White Pine Treaty of 1837, which acknowledges the Ojibwe people’s right to hunt, fish, and harvest wild rice in their traditional landscape. This acknowledgement by extension recognizes the Ojibwe’s right to food sovereignty. From the perspective of the Ojibwe, continuing these activities requires not simply controlling access to important food resources but also protecting their rights to maintain traditional relationships with the plants and animals that provide food and to manage the landscapes that provision them. Therefore, true food sovereignty necessitates protecting a people’s relationships with the landscape. Appropriation of wild rice over the past century, however, has threatened food sovereignty among the Ojibwe because it has compromised their ability to maintain their traditional relationship with a staple food resource that is also central to their identity. In light of the White Pine Treaty, this threat to the Ojibwe’s food sovereignty is effectively a threat to their political sovereignty and, we argue, a violation of the treaty agreement.

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  1. In comparison to its lakebed counterpart, paddy wild rice is consistently hard, black, and long-grained (LaDuke 2011).

  2. For an independent assessment of the ethical implications of wild rice research, see Streiffer (2005).


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Correspondence to Christina Gish Hill.

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Raster, A., Hill, C.G. The dispute over wild rice: an investigation of treaty agreements and Ojibwe food sovereignty. Agric Hum Values 34, 267–281 (2017).

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  • Indigenous food sovereignty
  • Wild rice
  • Genetic engineering
  • American Indian Treaty Law