Government funding wild rice, fish cultivation research

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Government of Ontario is investing in research that could help Indigenous communities see better yields on cultivated wild rice and fish populations.

In an announcement made on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, Ontario’s minister of northern development Greg Rickford shared that $550,000 would be invested through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) into a new research project at the IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA). The new research project will be examining the use of fish waste as fertilizer, as well as its impact on freshwater in cultivated wild rice paddy areas.

The release from the province notes that part of the research being done will look into the implications of wild rice paddy production on First Nations to “achieve a more consistent supply of wild rice than the current, in-lake methods.” It will also conduct research into cultivating fish stocks through aquaculture. The results could help to commercialize wild rice derived and value-added food products such as bannock and wild rice blends.

The research is being conducted at the Experimental Lakes Area in partnership with the Myera Group, Lakehead University, Eagle Lake First Nation, as well as two First Nations within the Treaty 3 area that were not identified within the release. The team will develop and implement community-based water quality monitoring and will also assess the health of fish in the watershed using non-lethal methods.

“This critical funding from NOHFC will allow us to do what we do best: work with scientists, local communities, industry and Indigenous partners to better understand and improve the health and use of freshwater supplies and build the economy sustainably,” said IISD-ELA executive director Matthew McCandless. “We are thrilled to continue working together to build a new centre for climate learning to benefit everyone in northern Ontario today and for generations to come.”

The research project also promises to include training and employment opportunities for First Nations communities in wild rice and aquaculture operations, as well as environmental monitoring. It will also create additional jobs in the post-research phase of the project, helping to potentially create “a culturally appropriate, sustainable wild rice harvest in northwestern Ontario.”

According to the Government of Ontario, the Experimental Lakes Area has been the site of continuous scientific freshwater research for over 50 years. Other projects conducted at the ELA include examining the impacts of microplastics on fresh water, the effects of antidepressants on lakes in northwestern Ontario, and how climate change could affect carbon loading to boreal lakes. Detailed write-ups of such topics can be found at the IISD website.

The NOHFC promotes economic development and prosperity across the north of the province by providing financial assistance to projects aiming to stimulate growth, job creation, and skills development. Rickford noted that supporting projects that aim to stimulate local economies and food production in the region is a net benefit for everyone who lives here.

“Our government is committed to building sustainable local food production that keep northern and Indigenous communities thriving,” Rickford said. “We are proud to support this critical research in the north at one of the world’s most influential freshwater research facilities.”

In addition to the NOHFC support, the Ontario government invested $149,600 in IISD-ELA through the Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario, to rebuild and recover from impacts of COVID-19.

The IISD-ELA currently collaborates with more than 26 North American universities, including Lakehead University and multiple federal and provincial governments, and has established relationships with many member communities of Anishinaabe Grand Council Treaty #3 and the Métis Nation of Ontario.

Minister of Northern Development and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, centre, checks out some of the set-ups being used to conduct research into cultivating fish stocks and sustainable wild rice crops at the IISD Experimental Lakes Area north of Kenora. The research is being funded by the NOHFC and will examine using fish waste to help fertilize and expand cultivated wild rice for Indigenous businesses and communities. – IISD Experimental Lakes Area photo