Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Bringing Back History: The Attempt to Restore Wild Rice on Spur Lake

By Ben Meyer, WXPR Public Radio
Pete McGeshick II looked out upon Spur Lake and thought about what used to be.
“The lake was full,” he said. “The rice bed was full all the way around.”
Wild rice used to grow thick on the 113-acre undeveloped lake in eastern Oneida County. It grew tall, too.
Pete McGeshick II, 80, recalling when he and Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Members used to harvest Spur Lake.
“You could come out here and you could see people harvesting wild rice,” McGeshick said. “A lot of them, you couldn’t even see because the wild rice was so high.”
McGeshick, a Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Member and former Rice Chief, is 80 years old now. He figures he first harvested rice on Spur Lake at age seven.
“This is the [lake] we’d come to first,” he said. “The rice bed would ripen first.”
McGeshick said a hundred people from the reservation in Mole Lake would be shuttled to Spur Lake in old Ford Model A’s, camping on the shoreline and harvesting the resource with a sacred place in their culture.
But by the 1990s and 2000s, the wild rice started to disappear, until it was gone altogether.
It was sad, McGeshick said. “Yeah. We couldn’t come here and camp anymore. We couldn’t harvest here anymore.”
The last several decades have been unkind to wild rice in Wisconsin.
The resource has deep cultural roots in the state, especially for Ojibwe Tribal Members. But it has been disappearing on lakes and rivers.
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates about half of the wild rice that once grew in Wisconsin is now gone. Five or six percent disappeared in the last decade.