The Manoomin Harvest as a Matriarchal Operation

Manoominike Giizis - The Good Berry/Wild Rice Making Moon

The proof is in the ancestors.  The proof is on the land.  The proof is on the water.  The proof is in the stories.  In Anishinaabe Aki we have a lot of work to do in terms of decolonization.  We have work to do in terms of decolonizing Christian and majority culture imposed gender roles.  Men, women, and Two-Spirits can internalize what is not traditional.  You can be patriarchal if you are man, woman, or even Two-Spirit.  In the Native American community we say that men can only do certain things and woman can do only certain thingssuch wear skirts at ceremonies.  Men also traditionally wore some kind of skirt so it is important to challenge these Christian and majority culture imposed notions of what is deemed traditional.  In our everyday lives we are always faced with a man/woman dichotomy and we never include Two-Spirited people who may be identifying as Two-Spirit based on their sexual orientation alone, gender identity alone, or sexual orientation and gender identity in combination.  There is a whole spectrum of identities that our communities had.  I can only speak for the Ojibway as this is my culture and heritage.  Two-Spirit identity varies from tribe to tribe across Turtle Island.

We need to check who is doing what and who is oppressing another in the process.  A patriarchal woman can oppress a matriarchal woman.  A patriarchal Two-Spirited person can oppress a matriarchal Two-Spirit.  A patriarchal man can think he is doing decolonization work and "doing good work," for "his" community when he leads the wild rice harvest.  There is nothing good about claiming and sharing knowledge to a process that has been matriarchal for a very long time.

I haven't come across many people who are willing do to the very difficult work of decolonizing gender roles.  I am probably one of the very very few that has made a commitment to this work.  Instead men benefit from male privilege when they follow and implement the majority culture imposed man/woman dichotomy.  Patriarchal women will benefit from this by "standing by their man."  These types of gender roles can play out in Two-Spirit relationships as well.  Then as we move from our personal lives to community (or non-community) lives and this plays out in everyday interactions from ceremonies, community meetings, talking circles, and our already patriarchal tribal government structures.

This time of year across Anishinaabe Aki many Anishinaabe will be gearing up for harvesting the good berry or what is known as wild rice.  The harvest will have a lot of patriarchy leading knowledge, teachings, and sharing stories that erase women and matriarchal traditions.  I know that my matriarchal ancestors whether male identified, female identified, or Two-Spirited of various identities held down the traditions of matriarchal leadership in an old time and traditional sense as they participated in the harvest. 

Photo: An amazing book by Brenda J. Child.  A must read!

"The wild rice harvest was the most visible expression of women's autonomy in Ojibwe society.  Binding rice was an important economic activity for female workers, who within their communities expressed prior claims to rice and a legal right to use wild rice beds in rivers and lakes through this practice.  Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy, as in European legal traditions.  Therefore, when early travelers and settlers observed Indigenous women working, it would have involved a paradigm shift for them to appreciate that for the Ojibwe, water was a gendered space where women's ceremonial responsibility for water derives from these related legal traditions and economic practices." - p. 25

 "Collectives of women controlled the entire social organization of the harvest, deciding on the rules and locations of campsites.  Harvesting wild rice was labor-intensive and involved many stages of cooperation." - p. 25-26

"One September in the ate nineteenth century, Joseph Gilfillan, an Episcopal missionary in Minnesota, observed an estimated six hundred Ojibwe women gathered for harvest at White Earth but no men." - p. 101

"Nearly all photographs and documents about Ojibwe wild-ricing before the publication of the WPA guide and the federal work camps of the same era represent a female harvest.  Some years before. the Minnesota ethnologist Frances Densmore had noted straightforwardly that "rice was harvested by women." - p. 102

Photo: Manoomin in August 2015.