Students speak for the Manoomin (wild rice)

May 25, 2023

One of the best ways we can build power and make our voices heard is by being in the room and sharing our stories with our legislators. During our Conservation Lobby Day on April 25, a group of students from the Menominee Tribal School did just that.

Their top priority was advocating for clean water and wild rice restoration. Specifically they asked their legislators to support Gov. Evers’ plan for the DNR to help Manoomin (wild rice) restoration and public education in ceded territory waters in the state budget.

One of the students, Chloeyann Anderson, said, "Wild rice is a part of our culture, it's a part of our history, basically our whole tribe. Our Menominee name, literally means ‘The Wild Rice People.’"

For all of these 6th and 7th graders, this was their first time speaking to their legislator, and their first time stepping foot in the State Capitol building. In the morning, a few students mentioned they were a little nervous, but simultaneously excited to speak for the wild rice that means so much to their culture.

Students walking into the Capitol Rotunda for the first time looking up.

The health of the Manoomin

Another Menominee student, Miles Wilber said, “I want clean water for the land…We used to come back with a lot of wild rice back in the day, but now we come back with only one bowl of wild rice.”

The students mentioned the stories their parents would tell them about the amount of wild rice they would bring home years ago, but the rice beds are not as healthy as they once were.

“Last year, we went on this trip,” said Chloeyann. “We were supposed to go wild ricing, but there were no beds and it was all destroyed. Well, not destroyed but we barely got any, so I was kind of upset about that. I was looking forward to it, so that's why I came to Lobby Day because I heard it was something about wild rice and I wanted to come.”

Organizer Anne Egan-Waukau helping students prepare before their meeting with their legislator.

Being in the room where it happens

The students walked as a group into the Capitol, holding their wild rice signs proudly. Their looks of awe as they walked into the Rotunda was a beautiful moment to witness. Led by their chaperones Samantha S. Anderson, Maria Gomez, Brian Silk, and Wisconsin Native Vote organizers Anne Egan-Waukau and Stacey White, they made it to their legislator’s room.

The students took turns sharing their stories with their elected official, and making their request for the state budget.

After their meeting, the students seemed to be filled with a new-found confidence. Samantha S. Anderson, their teacher, said, “This experience allowed students a voice to express their opinions and make their actions count. Our students love and care for their community and the people in it. So, if we, as teachers, can show them how to use their voice and become passionate about their role and place in the systems that govern it, then they can take care of their community and state as they grow.”

“Our young people are important models for how we can advocate for the issues we care about now and into the future,” said Anne Egan-Waukau. “Our stories, culture, and ways of life are fundamental to protecting the Wisconsin we love and for creating a healthy future for the seventh generation.”

Here’s a final quote from student Raeanne Summers: “Wild rice is our culture – that's my phrase. Without it, we are nothing."

Students pictured with Rep. Jeff Mursau after their meeting.


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