Community, Phytoliths and Collaborative Work

Our day started later than normal thankfully, which gave us time to recover from the past few days in the field. We met up in the early afternoon for our weekly videoconference with the other teams in the project. It was very interesting to hear the other teams and the work they are conducting in comparison to our own.


After lunch, we met at the FDL Resource Management building to hear lectures about writing our site description sections for our papers and an introduction to phytoliths.


Phytoliths historically have been described as “silica skeletons from plants.” This sounds like a pretty good description about something that seems very complex. Basically, phytoliths are what is left behind after plants die in the sediments of lakes and can be used to analyze historical data about lake vegetation and climate. Silica is one of the most common, if not the most common, minerals found in the Earth’s crust and is present in most plants. This silica is what exists in phytoliths and unique to each organism that processes it. One unique feature of wild rice phytoliths, in particular, is a specific indent that is largely diagnostic of wild rice vegetation. We were able to look at a wild rice plant, a chaffe and seeds from Red Lake.


The Ojibwe call wild rice “Manoomin” and is very integral to their Anishnabe culture. It’s so interesting to be a part of an REU that puts as much emphasis on the scientific aspect of research as the cultural aspect of it. One example is that we are learning the tribal names of plants as well as the Latin names of plants. We learned also that the Ojibwe People would use their moccasins and either poles or ropes to lessen their body weight in order to remove the chaffes from the rice seeds. (This is very simplified as I hope to learn more about this interesting cultural activity.)


The most important factor for me in this experience is learning so much about something that I haven’t had the opportunity to learn about previously in my studies. Although my educational background requires that I learn about the importance of protecting traditional tribal cultures, I rarely get to learn about the intricacies of tribal cultures and what makes them unique. This REU is allowing me to truly see, firsthand, some crucial distinctions about the Anishnabe culture and how I can contribute to its continuation.


Picture 1: REU Intern Emilia Caylor holding rice seed chaff.


Picture 2: Wild Rice from Red Lake compared to wild rice chaff




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