TRAVERSE CITY — Wild rice is sacred to the Native American cultures of the western Great Lakes.
So Native American artist Shirley Brauker knew just which image to enter in a poster art contest on the theme “Land of the Great Water — Sustainer of Life.”
Brauker’s acrylic-on-canvas painting, “The Rice Gatherers,” depicts three Native American women harvesting wild rice with “beaters” in a birch bark canoe. A “rice spirit,” the face of a woman with hair of rice, looks on from below the water’s surface.
The image will be featured on 16,000 posters distributed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to commemorate American Indian Heritage Month in November.
“We were judging on the realistic portrayal of something related to Native American heritage in Michigan as well as creativity, originality and craftsmanship,” said Sandy Penn, outreach coordinator for Michigan Natural Resources Conservation Service and a contest judge. “It was tough, but the painting by Shirley really hit the mark. In Michigan we work a lot with tribes on establishing wild rice in places it used to be. It’s a big wildlife practice and a big cultural practice in Michigan tribes.”
Brauker, of Coldwater, is a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee and a longtime instructor for the band’s summer Anishinaabe Language Camp. She also teaches at Indian Village Camp, another summer camp in Manistee that teaches all things Native American. Directed by her son, Austen Brauker, the camp often serves wild rice — called “manoomin” in Anishinaabe — cooked over a campfire.
“It’s been a staple as far as nourishment and feeding the people, like the sturgeon and the bear and the deer,” said Shirley Brauker, 63, who earned $2000 for the rights to her image. “In this area it was more plentiful a long time ago.”