Braiding the Sacred Corn Conference
Submitted by: Ohahonhkóhton
Akwesasne hosted the Braiding the Sacred Corn Conference on June 15-17, 2018 that brought together people from other Nations like the Meskwaki from Iowa, Ojibwe from Red Lake, Osage Nation from Oklahoma and people from the Haudenosaunee Nations to talk about preserving the spirit of corn within our own people.
On the first day we greeted our visitors with corn mush in the cookhouse. Then we brought them in the longhouse where the Mohawk Nation Council greeted them with the Ohen:ton Karihwahtékwen (Words Before All Else) and the 3 Bare words. Next, we did introductions of where everyone was from and why they were here in Ahkwesáhsne.
It was a good mix of people, first time farmers coming to learn from the experienced farmers. The purpose of the Braiding the Sacred Corn group is to preserve our ancient seeds from extinction. People from all over turtle island been coming to the group with old variety of seeds that they have been holding onto in their community and they need help preserving them.
Over the years, they have collected many varieties of seeds, including corn, beans and squash seeds. It was quite an amazing collection of seeds on display in the longhouse. The organization rematriated (gave back seeds to the original owners) some seeds to the Mohawk Nation. We were gifted with some original blue flour corn, red four corn, yellow flour Corn, and a flint corn from Red Lake.
An Objibwe elder named Jack Dejarlait from Red Lake had been growing out this flint corn in his community. It is the only one left of its kind. He originally got the seed from his grandfather. He wanted the Mohawk Nation to have this corn because he knew it would feel at home here. After the discussions ended, we ate corn soup for supper and then entertained our visitors with a social.
On the second day, we started off with a tobacco burning to acknowledge our seeds, and hope that we would have good luck in planting them. We asked that our 4 messengers watch over the seeds and asked the birds not to eat all our seeds. Then everyone came together and we planted a whole field of original blue corn that was given to the Mohawk Nation. We sang songs to the seeds as we planted and told stories. It was good to hear laughter because the seeds like laughter also. When it got too hot, we came inside for steak and cornbread, then we had a talking circle. It seems everyone has the same struggle when it comes to planting and preserving our own seeds in our own communities. This is why we need these gatherings to pick each other up, and encourage each other, so we can continue the work that we have to do to keep our original seeds going. Shonkwaia’tíson did not give up on us, so we cannot give up on our seeds. It would be like giving up on our children.
The final day, the people gathered together to eat red corn mush mixed with raspberries. Then, we worked to save our strawberry patch from the weeds. We grow these berries just for our ceremonies in the longhouse. Everyone worked together to weed the patch, but we also told stories. There was so much laughter that before you knew it, we were done. We gathered one last time in the building at the Akwesasne Freedom School 37 site to thank everyone and say our good byes. The Mohawk Nation thanked the people that came on this long journey to help the community of Akwesasne with preserving their sacred seeds by sending them back to their homes with strawberries, red flour corn, sacred tobacco and maple syrup.
The Braiding the Sacred group is a growing network across America (Turtle Island) of indigenous corn keepers. Their work centers on ancestral corn varieties and the need to return to our sacred responsibilities to care for them. Native people have been called to unite among our diverse Nations of the four directions. Our communities have stories, including our instructions to fulfill our responsibility to take care of our precious corn gift. From our ancestral corn comes the lessons for our future. The current destruction of our corn is related to the mainstream disconnection of the spiritual from our sacred corn.
The vibrant diversity represented in our Corn Cultures has resisted extermination for hundreds of years. Our resilience has turned the corner towards restoration. We must draw upon the strength of ancestral corn teachings. It is time to plant. It is time to unify indigenous people.
Conference organizers Lea Zeise (Oneida) and Angela Ferguson (Onondaga) Missing from photo: Roger Cook (Mohawk) and Jarrett Wheeler (Seneca)
Corn growers Jack Dejarlait (Red Lake Ojibwe) and Janice Brant (Tyendinaga)
Corn growers, Michael Snyder (Cattaraugus Seneca) and Stephen McComber (Kahnawà:ke Mohawk)
First Photo: Some conference participants with corn seed rematriated back to the Mohawk Nation Standing L to R: Janice Brant (Mohawk), Roger Cook (Mohawk), Angela Ferguson (Onondaga), Bev DeCoteau (Oneida), Ken Post (Manitoulin Island Ojibwe), Joe Hall (Osage), April Tarbell (Onondaga), Lea Zeise (Oneida), Jack Dejarlait (Red Lake Ojibwe), Stephen McComber (Mohawk), Jarrett Wheeler (Seneca), John Richardson (Haliwa Saponi), Brenda John (Oneida), Dylan Carsona (Oneida), Mary Arquette (Mohawk) Sitting: Richie Big Kettle (Seneca) and Dave Arquette (Mohawk)