Home in Minnesota

From the Smokey Hills of Northern Minnesota, emerge the Headwaters of the Shell River. This is also the place of my origin, where my mother grew me in the waters of her body, and released me into the river of time. I stayed for 18 years, then danced with coming and going, until Maui’s lasso pulled me to the House of the Sun.

When I heard Gaa-jiigawegamaag ziibi (Shell River) was being compromised, I knew I had to go home to support the Indigenous Women-led movement to Stop Line 3. To be a water protector of the waters from which I come. This tar sands pipeline expansion project crosses the Shell River 5 times, along with 75 other river crossings and over 800 wetlands. 

Shell River, Minnesota

My son and I set up our tent at the Shell City resistance camp for a few nights. While frac-outs were happening during the horizontal directional drilling under the waterway, it became imperative to hold all the most beautiful thoughts I could remember of the water being healthy and vibrant and supporting life. 

Of course, let’s be honest, this was really a fishing trip for my son Zeb! LOL. I was so excited to share with him all of my old haunts and oh the joys of life through the eyes of a 7-year-old naturalist. I fell in love with it all over again; eating wild raspberries, gooseberries, milkweed, lambsquarters, sumac, leeks, letting cattail pollen anoint us, and if you remember my story of overharvesting wild bee balm in my book Wild Food Plants of Hawai’i, then you’ll be happy to know that the patch has now increased more than 10-fold in size and was the main herb I used in my cooking.

Nearly every friend I visited had a boat and fishes (and hunts) – I love my friends! The ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ has far more bodies of water than the slogan says, and is truly one of the richest places for wild foods on the planet.

I love that Zeb’s first fish in Minnesota was a Sunny! I gutted it, sliced the sides, and pan-fried with skin on… the most delicious fish in northern Minnesota in my opinion. Larger walleye, bass, northern, and crappie got fillet’d, dipped in egg, and dredged in some of my cassava root flour from our garden on Maui. Zeb fed us so well, catching fish to stuff our bellies.

He also got us lots of crawdads! Yo, they really do taste like lobster.


We also set up tent at Camp Migizi on our journey. There are multiple resistance camps, spread out over hours of driving, on different reservations, and each started by different indigenous women. I took this video from where we slept, and where they drilled all night long.


We were graciously shown the wild blueberry spot at Camp Migizi. I cooked multiple meals of smoked whitefish and trout cheeks, which I had picked up while visiting a friend on Lake Superior, along with other foraged goods for everyone staying at the camp. We ate almost 100% local during our entire trip, and cooked many dishes in my solar oven. 

Line 3 runs over 1,000 miles long and is the most expensive pipeline ever built. It’s not if it will leak or spill, it’s when. Over 800 people have now been arrested (more than Standing Rock) in direct actions. Offices for this Canadian multinational corporation called Enbridge are in the small town where I graduated high school – Park Rapids, Minnesota.

While camping at my dear friend Auntie Steph’s house on the White Earth Reservation, she gifted me a ribbon dress she had made to go and pray at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. She reminded me to not succumb to the hot and reactive emotions. The pipeline will cross the precious headwaters of the largest river in North America, twice.

Aunty Steph had a gift for Zeb as well, baby Grogu in a cradleboard she beaded. This kid has bathed in the Headwaters of the Shell River, the Headwaters of the Mississippi River, adding his joy and witnessing the beauty and eating the fruits…with a little ‘shinaab blessing ♡ 

Our trip to Minnesota was phenomenal, nourishing on so many levels. I must have eaten 50 different species of wild foods, which included tons of screaming and squealing in delight.

A long overdue visit with my brother, so many friends, and eating at the brand spanking new Owamni Restaurant by Sioux Chef – go go go if you can, this is masterful decolonized indigenous fine dining!

The waters of northern Minnesota know they are loved, and we experienced joy together, and we hold that memory in perpetuity. 

One comment

  1. Carmie Spellman says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Sunny. It is a lovely balance between nature and hopefully the end of the need for extending more pipelines. I shuddered when I read 5 bypasses over the river. So dangerous. I get it having lived in Alaska for 30 years. It is all about oil and indigenous people. I do miss blue berry picking, Aurora, midnight sun, and the awesome wild beauty. I have never been to MN but know from several close friends how beautiful and precious that MN,State is so happy you took your family out on many excursions.

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