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Tropical Storm Ian Strengthens as it Heads to Cuba, Florida

Authorities and residents in Florida were keeping a cautious eye on Tropical Storm Ian as it rumbled ominously through the Caribbean on Sunday, likely to become a major hurricane on its path toward the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency throughout Florida and urged residents to prepare for the storm to lash large swaths of the state with heavy rains, high winds and rising seas.

Forecasters are still unsure of exactly where Ian could make landfall, with current models plotting it toward Florida’s west coast or panhandle regions, he said.

“We’re going to keep monitoring the track of this storm. But it really is important to stress the degree of uncertainty that still exists,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday, cautioning that “even if you’re not necessarily right in the eye of the path of the storm, there’s going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the state.”

The National Hurricane Center said Ian is expected to become a hurricane by early Monday and reach major hurricane strength Monday night or early Tuesday before it reaches western Cuba.

Flash and urban flooding is possible in the Florida Keys and Florida peninsula through midweek, and then heavy rainfall was possible for north Florida, the Florida panhandle and the southeast United States later this week. The agency advised Floridians to have hurricane plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.

A hurricane warning was in effect Sunday for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.

Cuban state media said emergency authorities have met to plan for the storm’s arrival and prepare for evacuations, though none had been ordered as of Sunday. The track forecast by the National Hurricane Center shows a major storm striking the far-western part of the island early Tuesday, close to the country’s most famed tobacco fields.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.

John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based center, said in an interview Sunday that it is not clear exactly where Ian will hit hardest in Florida. Residents should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages, he said.

“It’s a hard thing to say stay tuned, but that’s the right message right now,” Cangialosi said “But for those in Florida, it’s still time to prepare. I’m not telling you to put up your shutters yet or do anything like that, but it’s still time to get your supplies.”

Local media in Florida have reported a consumer rush on water, generators and other supplies in some areas where residents moved to stock up on goods ahead of the storm.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the state has begun loading trailers with more than 2 million meals and more than 1 million gallons of water to be ready to be sent into impacted areas. He said the state has had frequent communication with local governments and is processing requests for resources.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Sunday moved to activate the State Operations Center to respond to any potential storm damage. He told residents to monitor the weather and calmly take precautions if necessary.

At the Kennedy Space Center, NASA kept close watch on Ian’s projected path while debating whether to move its new moon rocket off the launch pad and into shelter. Managers already have bumped the test flight from this week to next because of the storm.

Elsewhere, powerful post-tropical cyclone Fiona crashed ashore Saturday in Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Canada region, washing houses into the sea, tearing off rooftops and knocking out power to more than 500,000 customers in two provinces.


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US Warns Russia of ‘Catastrophic Consequences’ If It Launches Nuclear Attack in Ukraine 

The U.S. has warned Russia of “catastrophic consequences” if it launches a nuclear attack on Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday.

Sullivan, speaking on ABC’s “This Week” show, said U.S. officials have told Russian officials privately that Biden “will respond decisively” if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders a nuclear strike but did not say how the U.S. would respond.

Sullivan said the U.S. would “not engage in a game of rhetorical tit-for-tat” with Russia.

But Sullivan, in a separate interview, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” show that “Russia understands very well what the United States would do in response to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine because we have spelled it out for them.” 

The U.S. response came after Putin signaled the possibility of a nuclear attack last week as he called up 300,000 military reservists to help fight in its seven-month invasion of Ukraine. The troop augmentation came after Russian battlefield setbacks, with Kyiv’s forces recapturing large swaths of territory in northeast Ukraine that Russia had seized in the early weeks of the war. 

Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere. 

Many men opposed to Putin’s war or fearful of being killed in the battlefront have abruptly fled Russia on flights to other countries, while others have joined long queues of cars on land routes headed to the Russian borders with Finland, Georgia and other countries.

Russia is in the midst of staging five days of disputed referenda in four regions of Ukraine it either fully or partially controls, votes where it assumes the local residents will support Russian annexation, which would give Moscow a pretext to defend the newly claimed territory. In some instances, Russian soldiers have been going door to door at gunpoint to order Ukrainians to vote.

But Ukraine, the U.S. and their Western allies are calling the referenda sham votes and of no legal consequence. Any Russian annexation of Ukrainian land would not be globally recognized.

Sullivan said the votes were “definitely not signs of strength or competence” on Russia’s part.

In an interview aired Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” show, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukrainians who refuse to vote in the referenda face significant retribution from Russian forces.

“Russians can turn off their electricity and won’t give them an opportunity to live a normal human life,” Zelenskyy said. “They force people, they throw them in prisons. They force them to come to these pseudo-referenda. And also, they also announced mobilization [of 300,000 reservists.] They’re forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories.”

But Zelenskyy said, “there is no support in the society for this referendum.”

The Ukrainian leader said the referenda are “a very dangerous signal” from Putin that he does not intend to end the war.

“He knows that he’s losing the war,” Zelenskyy said. “In the battlefield, Ukraine has seized the initiative. He cannot explain to his society why, and he is looking for answers to these questions.”

With the West and Ukraine saying the voting is almost assuredly preordained to favor Russia’s annexation, Zelenskyy said Moscow will then say, “Now, it’s the West who attacks Russia. Now, the West attacks our territories. We have to let the society join Russia, the society that wanted to be with Russia.”

Zelenskyy said a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine “could be a reality. He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don’t think he’s bluffing.”

But Zelenskyy added, “I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat. We need to keep putting pressure on him and not allow him to continue.”

He concluded, “I think that the military strategy of military and political leadership of Russia has not changed: its occupation of our country. And of course, they want to destabilize our country from inside.”

But he said Ukrainians are united against Putin, “even more united now than ever, over the 31 years of our independence from the Soviet Union.”

“So, he does everything possible to destabilize our country to make sure we’re weaker. And for that he wants to divide us of course, I’m one of the targets, of course, it goes without saying,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s not because of my personality, just because… because the president is a leader of their country.”


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Why is a NASA Spacecraft Crashing Into an Asteroid?

In the first-of-its kind, save-the-world experiment, NASA is about to clobber a small, harmless asteroid millions of miles away.

A spacecraft named Dart will zero in on the asteroid Monday, intent on slamming it head-on at 14,000 mph (22,500 kph). The impact should be just enough to nudge the asteroid into a slightly tighter orbit around its companion space rock — demonstrating that if a killer asteroid ever heads our way, we’d stand a fighting chance of diverting it.

“This is stuff of science-fiction books and really corny episodes of “StarTrek” from when I was a kid, and now it’s real,” NASA program scientist Tom Statler said Thursday.

Cameras and telescopes will watch the crash, but it will take days or even weeks to find out if it actually changed the orbit.

The $325 million planetary defense test began with Dart’s launch last fall.

Asteroid target

The asteroid with the bull’s-eye on it is Dimorphos, about 7 million miles (9.6 million kilometers) from Earth. It is actually the puny sidekick of a 2,500-foot (780-meter) asteroid named Didymos, Greek for twin. Discovered in 1996, Didymos is spinning so fast that scientists believe it flung off material that eventually formed a moonlet. Dimorphos — roughly 525 feet (160 meters) across — orbits its parent body at a distance of less than a mile (1.2 kilometers).

“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption,” said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist and mission team leader at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the effort. “This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid. It isn’t going to put it into lots of pieces.” Rather, the impact will dig out a crater tens of yards (meters) in size and hurl some 2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of rocks and dirt into space.

NASA insists there’s a zero chance either asteroid will threaten Earth — now or in the future. That’s why the pair was picked.

Dart, the impactor

The Johns Hopkins lab took a minimalist approach in developing Dart — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — given that it’s essentially a battering ram and faces sure destruction. It has a single instrument: a camera used for navigating, targeting and chronicling the final action. Believed to be essentially a rubble pile, Dimorphos will emerge as a point of light an hour before impact, looming larger and larger in the camera images beamed back to Earth. Managers are confident Dart won’t smash into the larger Didymos by mistake. The spacecraft’s navigation is designed to distinguish between the two asteroids and, in the final 50 minutes, target the smaller one.

The size of a small vending machine at 1,260 pounds (570 kilograms), the spacecraft will slam into roughly 11 billion pounds (5 billion kilograms) of asteroid. “Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a Great Pyramid,” said Chabot.

Unless Dart misses — NASA puts the odds of that happening at less than 10% — it will be the end of the road for Dart. If it goes screaming past both space rocks, it will encounter them again in a couple years for Take 2.

Saving earth

Little Dimorphos completes a lap around big Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. The impact by Dart should shave about 10 minutes off that. Although the strike itself should be immediately apparent, it could take a few weeks or more to verify the moonlet’s tweaked orbit. Cameras on Dart and a mini tagalong satellite will capture the collision up close. Telescopes on all seven continents, along with the Hubble and Webb space telescopes and NASA’s asteroid-hunting Lucy spacecraft, may see a bright flash as Dart smacks Dimorphos and sends streams of rock and dirt cascading into space. The observatories will track the pair of asteroids as they circle the sun, to see if Dart altered Dimorphos’ orbit. In 2024, a European spacecraft named Hera will retrace Dart’s journey to measure the impact results.

Although the intended nudge should change the moonlet’s position only slightly, that will add up to a major shift over time, according to Chabot. “So if you were going to do this for planetary defense, you would do it five, 10, 15, 20 years in advance in order for this technique to work,” she said. Even if Dart misses, the experiment still will provide valuable insight, said NASA program executive Andrea Riley. “This is why we test. We want to do it now rather than when there’s an actual need,” she said.

Asteroid missions galore

Planet Earth is on an asteroid-chasing roll. NASA has close to a pound (450 grams) of rubble collected from asteroid Bennu headed to Earth. The stash should arrive next September. Japan was the first to retrieve asteroid samples, accomplishing the feat twice. China hopes to follow suit with a mission launching in 2025. NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, meanwhile, is headed to asteroids near Jupiter, after launching last year. Another spacecraft, Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, is loaded into NASA’s new moon rocket awaiting liftoff; it will use a solar sail to fly past a space rock that’s less than 60 feet (18 meters) next year. In the next few years, NASA also plans to launch a census-taking telescope to identify hard-to-find asteroids that could pose risks. One asteroid mission is grounded while an independent review board weighs its future. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft should have launched this year to a metal-rich asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, but the team couldn’t test the flight software in time.

Hollywood’s take

Hollywood has churned out dozens of killer-space-rock movies over the decades, including 1998′s “Armageddon” which brought Bruce Willis to Cape Canaveral for filming, and last year’s “Don’t Look Up” with Leonardo DiCaprio leading an all-star cast. NASA’s planetary defense officer, Lindley Johnson, figures he’s seen them all since 1979′s “Meteor,” his personal favorite “since Sean Connery played me.” While some of the sci-fi films are more accurate than others, he noted, entertainment always wins out. The good news is that the coast seems clear for the next century, with no known threats. Otherwise, “it would be like the movies, right?” said NASA’s science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen. What’s worrisome, though, are the unknown threats. Fewer than half of the 460-foot (140-meter) objects have been confirmed, with millions of smaller but still-dangerous objects zooming around. “These threats are real, and what makes this time special, is we can do something about it,” Zurbuchen said. Not by blowing up an asteroid as Willis’ character did — that would be a last, last-minute resort — or by begging government leaders to take action as DiCaprio’s character did in vain. If time allows, the best tactic could be to nudge the menacing asteroid out of our way, like Dart.


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As Shelters Fill, New York City Weighs Tents to House Migrants 

New York City’s mayor says he plans to erect hangar-sized tents as temporary shelter for thousands of international migrants who have been bused into the Big Apple as part of a campaign by Republican governors to disrupt federal border policies. 

The tents are among an array of options — from using cruise ships to summer camps — the city is considering as it struggles to find housing for an estimated 13,000 migrants who have wound up in New York after being bused north from border towns in Texas and Arizona. 

“This is not an everyday homelessness crisis, but a humanitarian crisis that requires a different approach,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement Thursday. 

New York City’s huge system of homeless shelters has been straining to accommodate the unexpected new flow of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. 

In Arizona and Texas, officials have loading people on buses for free trips to Washington and New York City. More recently, Florida, which has a Republican governor running for reelection, flew migrants — at public cost — to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. 

Adams said the city had opened 23 emergency shelters — and was considering 38 more — to handle the people bused into the city since May. The city also recently opened a new, multimillion-dollar intake center to help the newcomers quickly get settled. 

A rendering of the likely design of the tent facility, released by the city, showed rows and rows of cots. Presumably, the tent would be heated, as autumn nights in the city can be quite cool, but the city released few details. 

City officials said these facilities — which they call “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers — would house migrants for only up to four days while the city arranged other types of shelter. 

Advocates for the homeless were unsure how to react. 

“We just don’t have enough detail” to form an opinion, said Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society. “If the goal here is to sort of quickly assess what people need and get them connected to services that will help them, then that will be great.” 

But he said the proposal has yet to be fleshed out. 

“All we know is a location and a picture of a big tent,” he said.  

In a joint statement, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said they were working with city officials to come up with “a viable solution that satisfies New York’s legal and moral obligation to provide safe and adequate shelter to all who seek it, including asylum-seekers.” 

Earlier this month, Adams had suggested housing hundreds of migrants on cruise ships. 

Critics pounced on that idea, saying he needs to offer more lasting solutions to a problem that has long vexed the city: how to find permanent shelter for the city’s unhoused — not just new migrants but for the considerable population of the homeless. 

Overall, the number of people staying nightly in New York City’s homeless shelters had fallen in recent years, partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That led city officials to reduce shelter capacity, leaving the system unprepared for the sudden surge in people needing help.

Advocates for the homeless were unsure how to react. 


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Read Marco Rubio’s letter on North Korea


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CIA Unveils Model of Al-Qaida Leader Al-Zawahiri’s Hideout

The CIA on Saturday revealed the model of a safe house used to brief President Joe Biden about the whereabouts of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri before it killed him in a drone strike in Afghanistan.

Shortly after al-Zawahiri’s death, White House officials released a photo showing Biden talking to CIA Director William Burns with a closed wooden box on the table in front of them. Now, the contents of the box — a model depicting a white-walled home with at least five stories and three partially obscured balconies — are on display at the CIA Museum inside the agency’s Virginia headquarters.

The museum is closed to the public and access is generally limited to the agency’s employees and guests. The CIA allowed journalists to tour the museum, newly refurbished in time for the agency’s 75th anniversary, as part of a broader effort to showcase its history and achievements.

Most of the exhibits took years or decades to declassify. The al-Zawahiri model home is the rare artifact that had been used by intelligence officers just weeks beforehand.

Al-Zawahiri was killed in late July, nearly a year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ending a two-decade war in which the CIA had a central role. The agency sent the first American forces two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two decades later, it pulled out intelligence assets and assisted in the chaotic evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies.

The Biden administration has said the strike shows it retains what it calls an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism capacity in Afghanistan. Opponents of the administration and some analysts question whether al-Zawahiri’s presence in a Kabul neighborhood suggests extremist groups like al-Qaida or the Islamic State are growing stronger under the Taliban, who now rule the country.

The strike was particularly meaningful for the CIA, which lost seven employees in trying to find al-Zawahiri, a key plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks who was then al-Qaida’s second-in-command.

They were killed when a Jordanian doctor who pretended to have information about al-Zawahiri carried out a 2009 suicide bombing at a base in the Khost province in Afghanistan. The doctor was working for al-Qaida.

On display near the model of al-Zawahiri’s home are seven stars honoring the CIA employees slain in the Khost province. The stars were previously part of a memorial in Afghanistan that was taken down as the U.S. withdrew.

Other newly revealed artifacts include concept drawings for the fake film created as part of a 1980 operation to rescue American diplomats from Iran, the subject of the 2012 movie Argo starring Ben Affleck. There are also crew uniforms and other items from the Glomar Explorer, the Howard Hughes-built ship that served as cover for a 1970s mission to surface a sunken Soviet submarine carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. (The story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times exposing the operation is reproduced on a nearby museum wall.)

The museum also includes some information on the agency’s darker moments, including its role in the ultimately false assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S. invasion, as well as the exposure and execution of several key spies the U.S. had in the Soviet Union.

Janelle Neises, the museum’s deputy director, says a running agency joke about the collection is that for most people, it’s “the greatest museum you’ll never see.”

The CIA wants to use its history to engage more with the public, albeit on the narrow terms one might expect of an intelligence service. The number of annual visitors to the museum, for example, is classified. Among the known guests are U.S. lawmakers, officers from other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and foreign officials.

But CIA employees posted about some of the museum’s roughly 600 exhibits on social media. The agency also recently started a podcast with Burns, the CIA director, as its first guest.

A primary goal of the museum is to reinforce lessons from the agency’s successes and failures for the current workforce, Neises said. Some CIA veterans who served in the missions depicted in the museum donated artifacts to the collection. But the agency is now hiring officers in their 20s who are too young to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The idea here is as you’re going to lunch or as you’re going to a meeting, leave 10 minutes early, leave 20 minutes early, and just take the time to look at one section and really learn about your history,” Neises said.


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NASA Scraps Tuesday Artemis Moon Launch Due to Storm

NASA has called off the scheduled Tuesday launch of its historic uncrewed mission to the moon due to a tropical storm that is forecast to strengthen as it approaches Florida.

After two previously canceled launch attempts, NASA is weighing returning the Artemis 1 mission rocket to its assembly site under the threat of extreme weather.

“NASA is forgoing a launch opportunity… and preparing for rollback (from the launchpad), while continuing to watch the weather forecast associated with Tropical Storm Ian,” it said Saturday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Ian is due to “rapidly intensify” over the weekend as it moves toward Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center, from which the rocket is set to launch.

Currently south of Jamaica, the storm is expected to approach Florida’s west coast “at or near major hurricane strength” early next week, threatening storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds across much of the state, the NHC said.

On the launchpad, the giant orange and white Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometers (85 miles) per hour. But if it has to be sheltered, the current launch window, which runs until October 4, will be missed.

A decision on whether to roll back the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building is due to be taken by the Artemis 1 team Sunday, “to allow for additional data gathering and analysis,” with the operation, if necessary, starting late Sunday or Monday morning, NASA said.

Jim Free, associate administrator for the agency’s exploration systems development directorate, said on Twitter that a “step-wise approach” to the decision to roll back preserves “a launch opportunity if conditions improve,” indicating a launch date before October 5 was still on the table.

If not, the next launch window will run from October 17 to 31, with one possibility of takeoff per day, except from October 24-26 and 28.

The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS as well as the unmanned Orion capsule that sits atop it, in preparation for future Moon-bound journeys with humans aboard.

Artemis is named after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, after whom the first moon missions were named.

Unlike the Apollo missions, which sent only white men to the moon between 1969 and 1972, Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman step foot on the lunar surface.

A successful Artemis 1 mission would come as a huge relief to the U.S. space agency, after years of delays and cost overruns.  

But another setback would be a blow to NASA, after two previous launch attempts were scrapped when the rocket experienced technical glitches including a fuel leak.

The cost of the Artemis program is estimated to reach $93 billion by 2025, with its first four missions clocking in at a whopping $4.1 billion each, according to a government audit.


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Minnesota Ojibwe Harvest Sacred, Climate-Imperiled Wild Rice

Seated low in her canoe sliding through a rice bed on this vast lake, Kendra Haugen used one wooden stick to bend the stalks and another to knock the rice off, so gently the stalks sprung right back up.

On a mid-September morning, no breeze ruffled the eagle feather gifted by her grandmother that Haugen wore on a baseball cap as she tried her hand at wild rice harvesting — a sacred process for her Ojibwe people.

“A lot of reservations are struggling to keep rice beds, so it’s really important to keep these as pristine as we can. … It renews our rice beds for the future,” the 23-year-old college student said.

Wild rice, or manoomin (good seed) in Ojibwe, is sacred to Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region, because it’s part of their creation story — and because for centuries it staved off starvation during harsh winters.

“In our origin story, we were told to go where food grew on water,” said Elaine Fleming, a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe elder whose manoomin class at Leech Lake Tribal College went harvesting last week. “It’s our sacred food.”

But changing climate, invasive species and pollution are threatening the plant even as its cultivated sibling rises in popularity nationwide as an exceptionally nutritious food, though often priced out of reach of urban Indigenous communities.

Those threats make it crucial to teach young band members to harvest wild rice respecting both rituals and the environment. That will help wild rice remain available as an essential element for ceremonies, but also as a much-needed income generator for the Leech Lake reservation, where nearly 40% of Native residents live in poverty.

The basic instructions for newbies reflect that dual reality — respect the rice by not breaking the stems, and if you lose balance, jump out to avoid tipping the canoe with its precious cargo.

Fleming gave everyone tobacco from a zip-close bag. Before scattering it on the calm water and setting out, the youths gathered around another elder praying in Ojibwe — to introduce the group to the natural elements around them, explain why it needed their help, ask for safe passage on the water and give thanks.

“Any time you take something from the earth, you want to thank the earth for what she’s given us,” said Kelsey Burns, a student and first-time ricer.

That reciprocity between humans and nature is essential to Ojibwe spirituality. In their stories, the Creator, before bringing to the earth Anishinaabe, the first Indigenous person, gathered all animals to ask how they could help.

“Plants were listening and chimed in and said, ‘We have gifts too, so Anishinaabe can have a good life,'” Fleming explained. “Rice said, ‘We’ll feed Anishinaabe.'”

In two hours on the water, the pairs of polers, who stood steering with 20-foot poles, and knockers, who rained rice into the canoe until it formed a thick, green-brown carpet, gathered about 35 pounds. Experienced ricers can harvest a quarter ton a day.

This year, they can get $6 per pound of rice, a high price because the two-week harvest is particularly meager, said Ryan White. A 44-year-old single dad, he takes his two boys and a nephew ricing to help cover the bills and for the kids to buy video games.

“You learn the essence of hard work out here,” he said while knocking rice on a recent afternoon, with duct tape over his trousers’ hem and shoes so not a grain would be wasted.

“Cleaning the boat real good,” White explained later as he swiped the rice into a sack. “Because of stories we heard of old times, when … even a handful like this meant a meal or two for the kids, and at the end of winter it actually might save your family.”

“That manoomin is our brother, that saved us as a people many different ways,” said Dave Bismarck, who was loading about 200 pounds of just-harvested rice at a nearby landing. “Ricing to me is real spiritual. There’s a lot who have gone home already, and when I’m ricing, the harder I work … the closer I am to them.”

But the beds are “continually shrinking,” said White, who’s been ricing for three decades. And that endangers wild rice’s spiritual and economic gifts.

While some natural cycling is normal, bad years for wild rice are becoming more frequent, said Ann Geisen, a wildlife lake specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“It seems to be tied to climate change,” she added. “Bigger storm events when it’s uprooted and wiped out, we seem to have more of these. A big bounce (in water levels) in the spring can wipe out an entire lake.”

A warming climate can also damage the plant, whose seeds need to be close to freezing on shallow lake bottoms for months to germinate well, and brings destructive invasive species and fungi to Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of Canada, wild rice’s only natural habitats.

“It’s going to completely ravish natural stands,” said Jenny Kimball, a professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota. She works on both conservation and developing more resistant breeds for cultivated wild rice growers, an industry she estimates adds about $58 million to the state economy and has far outpaced natural production for decades.

Most Ojibwe bands want to save natural stands, however, and several recently filed lawsuits fighting water contamination — including one dismissed this year in White Earth tribal court that named manoomin as the lead plaintiff in a novel “rights of nature” approach.

The suit accused the state of failing to protect water where wild rice grows by allowing the pumping of billions of gallons of groundwater from an oil pipeline project.

In July, two other northern Minnesota tribes sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of state changes to water quality standards that the tribes allege would increase pollution and damage wild rice.

Leech Lake students and faculty discussed industrial pollution and controversial pipelines as they gathered outside the college for a feast celebrating their first day harvesting.

Before cooking the rice, they had to parch it, stirring it in a giant iron kettle for more than an hour; jiggle the husks loose by dancing over it as it lay in a hide-covered hole in the ground; and finally winnow it in birchbark baskets.

“We understand our responsibility, as nation, to this land. We’re supposed to think seven generations to the future,” Fleming said.

Burns, the student, was thinking of her son, who’s 5.

“I like learning everything that I can about our culture,” she said. “I didn’t learn much when I was younger, so I felt a part of me was missing. I want to keep teaching everything I learn.”


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