For as long as there are memories, the traditional peoples of Turtle Island have narrated sacred stories and lived in sacred places. The stories guided our lives, reinforced our values of community well-being and respect for our sacred Mother Earth, and fostered our spirituality...We dream of the time foretold by our ancestors when the Earth will be made whole and known by all people to be holy.

Winona LaDukeExcerpt from, "In the Time of the Sacred Places".

This case study is based on a true story of a graduate student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, which is located in northern Minnesota. The individuals’ names have been changed and many of the details as well, but the fundamental question of ‘how can we work across cultures?’ remains.

In real life and in the case study, the student (whom we call Sophia) was tasked with leading and training undergraduates who would be conducting wild rice research in coordination with local tribal communities. The wild rice is very sacred to the Anishinaabe people (also referred to as the Ojibwe), and she was overwhelmed in not knowing how to approach it herself, much less train undergraduates in how to work in collaboration with the tribal communities.

Becoming interculturally competent means becoming a cultural detective, examining the cultural beliefs, values and behaviors of a culture, starting with your own.

Discussion Question: Why is self-awareness the foundation of intercultural competence?
The Platinum Rule

When interacting with other cultures that have a history of trauma and living trauma resulting from broken promises and missteps by others who have come before, take great care and have a willingness to learn. Developing intercultural competence is a lifelong journey. One of the fundamental rules of acting in an interculturally competent way is similar to the Golden Rule (treat others how you want to be treated), but with a twist:

Treat others how they want to be treated.

To do this, more must be understood about the Anishinaabe perspective. The Anishinaabe people share the culture and languages of the Algonquian tribes that live and have lived in the Great Lakes area for many generations. Throughout this case study the terms Ojibwe and Anishinaabe will be used interchangeably. The way to determine how to refer to Ojibwe or Anishinaabe people (sometimes also referred to as Chippewa) is to use the Platinum Rule and ask them how they would like to be identified.

To better understand the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe worldview, watch the following videos:

Old Ways, New Battles: Wild Rice as Anishinaabe Prophecy (6 minutes)

What Does an Indigenous University Look Like? (18 minutes)

Sophia’s Dilemma

It’s the height of the

summer tourist season

on Lake Superior.

Sophia rolls down her windows to feel a hint of a breeze. The steering wheel is hot to the touch. She takes a turn past the Glensheen mansion and heads away from the great lake. She is going towards the university campus that is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Duluth. The campus hosts a panoramic view of the lake. It shimmers and has boats from all over the world docked in the harbor. She grins since summer in Minnesota is something to savor—winter is always in the back of her mind. Her grin transforms into a wince as she pulls into the parking lot and recalls that the meeting she’s been dreading is just one week away.

As her body tenses up, she sighs and takes the keys out of the ignition. Her phone buzzes, alerting her of a text message from her boss, Professor Ron Knutson, who works in the Biology department. He wants to meet in an hour.

The Text Messages

What should Sophia do?


Small Group Discussions

She immediately texts her co-worker Angelica.

Angelica has a close family friend named Ivan who is an Elder in the Fond du Lac tribe. She arranges for a time Sophia and Ivan to meet on the reservation.


Describe what Sophia’s dilemma is.

What are her most immediate concerns?

What about her own culture should she understand before entering into a dialogue with Ivan?

What steps should she take to prepare for her meetings with Ron and Ivan?

Sophia’s Task

Sophia has been tasked by the Biology department to develop a training program for undergrads who will be conducting research on wild rice. She was initially really excited about the idea until she realized how complicated the process would be. She learned that wild rice was much more than a species of grass or something to put into a casserole. She found out that wild rice was a sacred part of Ojibwe culture but didn’t fully understand why.

Watch the video below for more information on why wild rice is sacred to the Ojibwe by director Jack Pettibone Riccobono [Run time: 6 minutes].

A Complicated History

Sophia did understand that there was a long history of missteps by other researchers who were disrespectful to the area’s Ojibwe tribes. She didn’t want her undergraduates to contribute to the tension, but how could she direct them when she didn’t even know how to do it herself?

Her boss Ron was always helpful, but he was brand new to the department and didn’t understand the complexities or the history. Plus, he was swamped and focused on his own research agenda because he was up for tenure soon.

Understanding Self

She learned that the first step in working across cultures was to know more about her own cultural identity.

If you were meeting with someone from another culture, how would you describe your culture to them?


Training Elements

Use this process model to help inform the training program. What should be included?

After meeting with Professor Ron and detailing some of her concerns, Professor Ron asks Sophia to start creating a comprehensive training that addresses the following:


What is Manoomin and why is it sacred?

Create an overview of why manoomin, or wild rice, is sacred to the Ojibwe. How would you introduce this topic to undergraduate researchers?


o How can you help students better understand their own cultural identity? Why is this the foundation of intercultural competence?
o Understand and relay culturally sensitive approaches to science, including integrating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK).
o Discuss principles for establishing relationships. What are principles for establishing effective relationships? What do you think is the Ojibwe perspective establishing relationships? How can you find out?

History & the Current Political Climate

What should Sophia's students know about the history of research on wild rice at the University of Minnesota? Why is wild rice a hotly debated political topic in state of Minnesota? Watch the one minute clip below for insight into the political context.


Beyond the university’s relationship with tribal communities, a great debate regarding protecting wild rice from sulfate pollution unfolds across the state. A stakeholder analysis is helpful in examining environmental problems and how they interplay with human behaviors and other factors. By conducting a stakeholder analysis, human motivations at play can be uncovered, along with a better understanding of wild rice from multiple entity’s perspectives such as the mining industry, environmental groups, the University, governing bodies (federal, state, and tribal), tribal groups, and the diversity of voices within each internal grouping. In Sophia’s situation, she can be more effective by recognizing who the players are and how they are connected. She can start examining which entities have the most influence in the situation and which ones have the most to gain or lose.

Teacher’s Guide: Using Stakeholder Analysis in the Classroom by Ramiro Berardo and Claudia Murphy

Stakeholder report

In this comprehensive report from the Minnesota DNR, you can read letters submitted by various stakeholder groups (starts on page 105): A university scientist, the President of the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council, Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a joint statement by several tribes and affiliated groups.

Stakeholder Analysis
Continue on to the next module of the case study where you will take on a stakeholder position as an environmentalist, a scientist, a tribal member or a member of the mining industry.
Tribal Communities
  • Local tribal Elders
  • Local tribal leadership
  • Tribal leaders from other Minnesota tribes
  • Tribal activists

Ojibwe Harvest Wild Rice on Ceded Land to Exert 1855 Treaty Rights

The University
  • White paper written at the request of the Anishinaabeg Nations addressing the fractured relationship with the University of Minnesota
  • Response to the white paper by the University’s President
U.S. Federal and Minnesota State Government

Hearing To Nullify MN Water Quality Standard For Wild Rice


The battle for Minnesota’s $1 trillion mining jackpot

PolyMet: Wild Rice Sulfate Standards

Winona LaDuke – Seeds of Our Ancestors, Seeds of Life


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