The Ojibwe are one of the largest American Indian groups in North America. There are nearly 150 different bands of Ojibwe Indians living throughout their original home land in the northern United States (especially Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan) and southern Canada (especially Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) .
The wild rice, called manoomin in the Ojibwe language, is native to the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes region and Canada. Once as plentiful as grass itself, wild rice—which grows on long, delicate stalks—was easily found along rivers, sloughs, and lakes throughout the North Woods. Manoomin was such a staple of many Native American nations’ diets, it had an honored place in cultural and religious ceremonies as well as some groups’ origin stories .
“If you look at Wisconsin’s state history, there used to be rice beds in the southern part of the state. They don’t exist anymore. Now you only find it in the northern part", a tribal member stated. "That is an alarming thing.” He continued, “It would be very hard for our community to fathom life without wild rice. Beyond being a food source, it allows us to reconnect with our environment. Our whole way of life is associated with wild rice.” 
Harvesting manoomin is a cultural tradition that goes back centuries and is still practiced today, much in the same way it was done before Europeans set foot in North America. In Minnesota, each summer members of the White Earth Nation navigate their canoes through the shallows of Upper and Lower Rice Lake to collect the rice, which has protein, is low in fat, and has a higher nutritional value than other grains. Harvesters pull the rice stalks over their canoes and scrape the thin, wispy stalks with traditionally designed “knockers.” The grains fall to the bottom of the boats and then are gathered by hand. Once a canoe is full, the harvesters pull up to the shore to bag the raw rice and sell it to the White Earth Band, which distributes the rice to tribal members for consumption and ceremonial uses .
That deep cultural connection to wild rice is under threat by, among other things, fossil fuel development. In Minnesota, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is fighting a proposal by Canadian energy infrastructure firm Enbridge to replace its Line 3 pipeline, which carries crude oil from Canada to the United States. Tribal members worry that any pipeline leak or rupture could pollute the rice beds. “With the pipeline possibly moving in, we worry,” Goodwin said. “If it gets anywhere near our water, it could contaminate our plants. We want to make sure it remains natural. We want to keep chemicals away from it.” 
In their effort to halt pipeline construction, Ojibwe members have spoken against the proposal at official hearings, staged protests and marches, and engaged in civil disobedience actions. In December 2018, the White Earth Band passed a tribal law that establishes legal personhood for wild rice—including the right to “flourish, regenerate, and evolve” .
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians is trying to stop another Enbridge project, the Line 5 pipeline, which would move oil from Canada through Wisconsin and into Michigan. A spill in the region could be devastating for rice-growing areas, said Jennings, who also serves as a spokesperson for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. The area is famous for its wild rice harvest, and a spill in the area would devastate the ecosystems. The Bad River in northern Wisconsin has a unique watershed and estuary. It’s also one of the only areas that has wild rice growing right on Lake Superior .
From the tribe’s perspective, industrialization and encroachment are huge threats to our water and air quality standards and how it correlates to the survival of wild rice.” Tribal nations in the Great Lakes region have also fought against several proposed mines that, they say, could compromise water quality and put manoomin at risk .
In 2015, the Bad River Band won a major battle when mining company Gogebic Taconite scrapped its plans to build a $1.5 billion iron-ore mine in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. The decision followed an independent environmental assessment conducted by local scientists from nearby Northland College, who worked with the Ojibwe to map out all the potential hazards to the environment and wild rice beds. In the course of the struggle, the Ojibwe often referred to their 1855 treaty with the United States, which guaranteed tribal members the right to hunt, fish, and gather on the proposed mine site .
Currently, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is fighting against the Back Forty Mine, a proposed open pit metallic sulfide mine located on the banks of the Menominee River in Lake Township, Michigan. Once again, the possible pollution of waterways that are home to wild rice is among the top concerns .
Across the border in Canada, another battle over wild rice has been brewing for more than 40 years, as First Nations there struggle with Canadians over how, or whether, to seed lakes and ponds with manoomin. In the early 1900s, the completion of dams and flooding of the water systems to create the Trent-Severn Waterway almost eradicated the wild rice in the area, and the Ojibwe hoped to return wild rice along the Kawartha Lakes region east of Toronto. Ojibwe have learned the traditional practices of gathering, winnowing, curing, and roasting wild rice, and he were committed to making sure manoomin survived  .
The state's longtime position has been that it's illegal to harvest wild rice without a license on off-reservation land. The tribe members hope the charges against the governments will open a court battle that could clarify treaty rights, and reaffirm hunting and gathering rights they believe were guaranteed by a treaty signed more than 150 years ago .