Two Great Locations, One Organization

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum:

Learning partners with our indigenous communities and kinships

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum (MBGNA) stewards lands that are the homelands of Anishinaabek nations – past, present and future. Our organization recognizes and honors this fundamental truth.

MBGNA’s roles and programs are based on living landscapes and plants from across Turtle Island / North America and the entire Earth. Consequently, we seek to co-create new approaches to power and cultivate new shared futures with Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island and the Earth in their ethical frameworks. Our first steps are with Anishinaabek knowledge, culture, and knowledge keepers, as well as with  Indigenous colleagues they respect. 
This page guides visitors through resources we have developed together and includes links to articles, presentations, etc., that are already available online to the public. For more information please contact mbgna.dei@umich.edu.
  • No information or links are shared here or by email contact that have not been mutually agreed with Indigenous and engaged partners.
  • Anishinaabemowin spellings reflect an engaged Tribe’s preference.

Current collaborations with our Indigenous partners

Indigenous corn harvested
This ongoing project began in 2017 when Shannon Martin of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, along with representatives from several Anishinaabe tribes, gathered with faculty and staff from the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, Ferris State University, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, and the United States Department of Agriculture at the botanical gardens.
The goal of the two-day meeting was to determine how collections can be innovatively used in partnership with the Anishinaabe, and how and when to assess the viability of archived seeds. Participants focused on identifying key challenges and sharing ideas and information. The group also addressed essential questions of how museums can aid in promoting sustainable lifeway initiatives in Indigenous communities, like seed sharing and teaching Native foodways.
At the meeting, participants agreed to implement the collaborative framework they were developing though a pilot project focused on a single cultigen collected from a specific community of origin—metaphorically described as the “return of one seed to one Nation.” Since the catalyst grant project ended, continued discussions with representatives of the Bkejwanong Walpole Island First Nation and UM teams has led to a project-specific memorandum of understanding and implementation of the pilot project at the Matthaei Botanical gardens.
An over-arching theme of the Heritage Seed project was the importance of framing respectful collaborations between First Nations/Tribes, UM, and other specialists that will be of mutual interest and related to the botanical collections curated at the university. The project created a foundation for sustainable-lifeways collaborative research using museum collections and can be used as a model for ways to create partnerships between universities and Indigenous communities.
Fox blue mandamin corn

A harvest of Fox Blue Mandamin corn at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in October 2020. The Fox Blue corn, along with Illini squash seeds, was the third harvest from the Heritage Seeds Project that returned the seeds back to their communities of origin.

In late 2020 corn and squash seeds from plants grown at Matthaei Botanical Gardens went back to the Indigenous communities from which their ancestors came.
This process—called rematriation—returns traditional seeds or plants to the community that was home before their ancestors were removed. In most cases a museum or institution collected the plants or seeds for research or study. 
The University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA) holds one of the largest collections of ethnobotanical seeds in North America. Many of the collections are traditional crop seeds such as corn from tribes of the American Southwest, but a few are from Anishinaabec tribes in the Great Lakes region. 

Project Team

  • David C. Michener – Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, University of Michigan
  • James Penner-Hahn – Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, University of Michigan
  • Philip J. Deloria – Departments of History and American Culture, LSA, University of Michigan
  • Christina Walters – USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation
  • Shannon Martin – Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways
  • Sydney Martin – Gun Lake Tribe; Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians
  • Kevin Finney – Gun Lake Tribe; Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians
  • Scott M. Herron – Biology, Ferris State University
  • Lisa Young – Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, University of Michigan
  • Jessica Litman – Law School, University of Michigan
  • Dan Cornelius – Intertribal Agricultural Council, Great Lakes Region
wild rice
This project—called the Mnomen Initiative—aims to build a partnership of Anishinaabek community members, Indigenous nations, U-M faculty, and allies at other Michigan universities. Indigenous partners will contribute time-tested traditional ecological knowledge and years of hard-earned experience in Mnomen socio-ecology, while regional wild rice experts will bring the range of available current knowledge and best practices. Together, the group will assess the feasibility of Mnomen restoration on ten U-M properties and propose a pilot restoration project on the most appropriate site, exemplifying sustainability grounded in reconciliation principles.
Although mistaken for a wetland plant of only the far north, Mnomen (wild rice, Zizania aquaticaZ. palustris) is a staple food for Anishinaabek peoples across the Great Lakes—including those who once made their home on lands now owned by U-M. But after centuries of ecological degradation across Michigan’s lower peninsula, Mnomen now survives in just a fraction of its former abundance.
Willow Pond at Matthaei

Above: Willow Pond at Matthaei. This site is the best of our locations to reestablish Mnomen / wild rice in collaboration with our Indigenous partners.

Project team

  • David Michener – U-M Botanical Gardens (PI)
  • Rebecca Hardin – U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)
  • Gregory Dowd – U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA)
  • Benjamin Secunda – U-M Office of Research (UMOR)
  • Scott Herron – Ferris State University
  • Samantha Stokes – U-M SEAS
  • Samantha Stokes – U-M Library Deep Blue Documents
  • Maeghen Goode – U-M SEAS/TCAUP
  • Manavi Jaluka – Vassar University
  • Doug Taylor – Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi
  • John Rodwan – Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi
  • Eric Kerney – Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi
  • Gary Morseau – Pokagon Band of Potawatomi
  • Marcus Winchester – Pokagon Band of Potawatomi
  • Christine Morseau – Pokagon Band of Potawatomi
  • Shannon Martin – Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
  • Carey Pauquette – Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
  • Kathy Hart – Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College
  • William Johnson – Michigan Anishinaabe Cultural and Repatriation Alliance
  • Alex Wieten – Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish (Gun Lake) Band of Potawatomi Indians
  • Montana Riley – Walpole Island Cultural Center
  • Roger Labine – Lac Vieux Desert
  • Ricki Oldencamp – Pierce Cedar Creek Institute
  • Corey Lucas – Pierce Cedar Creek Institute
  • Barb Barton – author of Manoomin: The Story of Wild Rice in Michigan

Both Heritage Seeds for Sustainable Lifeways and Restoring Mnomen were funded in part by the Graham Sustainability Institute’s Catalyst Grants. We are thankful for this generous support.

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