Saturday, October 29, 2005
History of Thanksgiving
Cathy Ross, Mary Robertson, Chuck Larsen, and Roger Fernandes
Indian Education, Highline School District
With an introduction by:
Tacoma School District
Printed: September, 1986
Reprinted: May, 1987
This is a particularly difficult introduction to write. I have been a public schools teacher for twelve years, and I am also a historian and have written several
books on American and Native American history. I also just happen to be Quebeque French, Metis, Ojibwa, and Iroquois. Because my Indian ancestors were on both sides of the struggle between the Puritans and the New England Indians and I am well versed in my cultural heritage and history both as an Anishnabeg (Algokin) and Hodenosione (Iroquois), it was felt that I could bring a unique insight to the project.
For an Indian, who is also a school teacher, Thanksgiving was never an easy holiday for me to deal with in class. I sometimes have felt like I learned too much
about "the Pilgrims and the Indians." Every year I have been faced with the professional and moral dilemma of just how to be honest and informative with my children at Thanksgiving without passing on historical distortions, and racial and cultural stereotypes.
The problem is that part of what you and I learned in our own childhood about the "Pilgrims" and "Squanto" and the "First Thanksgiving" is a mixture of both history and myth. But the THEME of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of the Plymouth Plantation.
So what do we teach to our children? We usually pass on unquestioned what we all received in our own childhood classrooms. I have come to know both the truths and the
myths about our "First Thanksgiving," and I feel we need to try to reach beyond the myths to some degree of historic truth. This text is an attempt to do this.
At this point you are probably asking, "What is the big deal about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims?" "What does this guy mean by a mixture of truths and myth?" That is
just what this introduction is all about. I propose that there may be a good deal that many of us do not know about our Thanksgiving holiday and also about the "First
Thanksgiving" story. I also propose that what most of us have learned about the Pilgrims and the Indians who were at the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation is only part of the truth. When you build a lesson on only half of the information, then you are not teaching the whole truth. That is why I used the word myth. So where do you start to find out more about the holiday and our modern stories about how it began?
A good place to start is with a very important book, "The Invasion of America," by Francis Jennings. It is a very authoritative text on the settlement of New England
and the evolution of Indian/White relations in the New England colonies. I also recommend looking up any good text on British history. Check out the British Civil War of 1621-1642, Oliver Cromwell, and the Puritan uprising of 1653 which ended parliamentary government in England until 1660. The history of the Puritan experience in New England really should not be separated from the history of the Puritan experience in England. You should also realize that the "Pilgrims" were a sub sect, or splinter group, of the Puritan movement. They came to America to achieve on this
continent what their Puritan bretheran continued to strive for in England; and when the Puritans were forced from England, they came to New England and soon absorbed the
As the editor, I have read all the texts listed in our bibliography, and many more, in preparing this material for you. I want you to read some of these books. So let me use my editorial license to deliberately provoke you a little. When comparing the events stirred on by the Puritans in England with accounts of Puritan/Pilgrim activities in New England in the same era, several provocative things suggest
The Puritans were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They were political revolutionaries who not only intended to overthrow the government of England, but who actually did so in 1649.
The Puritan "Pilgrims" who came to New England were not simply refugees who decided to "put their fate in God's hands" in the "empty wilderness" of North America, as a generation of Hollywood movies taught us. In any culture at any time, settlers on a frontier are most often outcasts and fugitives who, in some way or other, do not fit into the mainstream of their society. This is not to imply that people who settle on frontiers have no redeeming qualities such as bravery, etc., but that the images of nobility that we associate with the Puritans are at least in part the good "P.R." efforts of later writers who have romanticized them.(1) It is also very plausible that this unnaturally noble image of the Puritans is all wrapped up with the mythology of "Noble Civilization" vs. "Savagery."(2) At any rate, mainstream
Englishmen considered the Pilgrims to be deliberate religious dropouts who intended to found a new nation completely independent from non-Puritan England. In 1643
the Puritan/Pilgrims declared themselves an independent confederacy, one hundred and forty-three years before the American Revolution. They believed in the imminent
occurrence of Armegeddon in Europe and hoped to establish here in the new world the "Kingdom of God" foretold in the book of Revelation. They diverged from their Puritan brethren who remained in England only in that they held little real hope of ever being able to successfully overthrow the King and Parliament and, thereby, impose their "Rule of Saints" (strict Puritan orthodoxy) on the rest of the British people. So they came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but in a hundred others as well, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build
their prophesied "Holy Kingdom."(3)
The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in England, but some of them were themselves religious bigots by our modern standards. The Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the "Chosen Elect" mentioned in the book of Revelation. They strove to "purify" first themselves and then everyone else of everything they did not accept in their own interpretation of scripture. Later New England Puritans used any means, including deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to achieve that end.(4) They saw themselves as fighting a holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed with them was the enemy. This rigid fundamentalism was transmitted to America by the Plymouth colonists, and it sheds a very different light on the "Pilgrim" image we have of them. This is best illustrated in the written text of the Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth in 1623 by "Mather the Elder." In it, Mather the Elder gave
special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag Indians who had been their benefactors. He praised God
for destroying "chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth", i.e., the Pilgrims.(5) In as much as these Indians were the Pilgrim's benefactors, and Squanto, in particular, was the instrument of their salvation that first year, how are we to interpret this
apparent callousness towards their misfortune?
The Wampanoag Indians were not the "friendly savages" some of us were told about when we were in the primary grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the
Pilgrims' hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims' harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood. The Wampanoag were members of a
widespread confederacy of Algonkian-speaking peoples known as the League of the Delaware. For six hundred years they had been defending themselves from my other
ancestors, the Iroquois, and for the last hundred years they had also had encounters with European fishermen and explorers but especially with European slavers, who had
been raiding their coastal villages.(6) They knew something of the power of the white people, and they did not fully trust them. But their religion taught that
they were to give charity to the helpless and hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty hands.(7) Also, Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, had a very real love for a British explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second
father to him several years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Clearly, Squanto saw these Pilgrims as Weymouth's people.(8) To the Pilgrims the Indians were heathens and, therefore, the natural instruments of the Devil. Squanto, as the only educated and baptized Christian among the Wampanoag, was seen as merely an instrument of God, set in the wilderness to provide for the survival of His chosen people, the Pilgrims. The Indians were comparatively powerful and, therefore, dangerous; and they were to be courted until the next ships arrived with more Pilgrim colonists and the balance of power shifted. The Wampanoag were actually invited to that Thanksgiving feast for the purpose of negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. It should also be noted that the INDIANS, possibly out of a sense of charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing the majority of the food for the feast.(9)
A generation later, after the balance of power had indeed shifted, the Indian and White children of that Thanksgiving were striving to kill each other in the
genocidal conflict known as King Philip's War. At the end of that conflict most of the New England Indians were either exterminated or refugees among the French in
Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans. So successful was this early trade in Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of the South, thus founding the American-based slave
Obviously there is a lot more to the story of Indian/Puritan relations in New England than in the thanksgiving stories we heard as children. Our contemporary
mix of myth and history about the "First" Thanksgiving at Plymouth developed in the 1890s and early 1900s. Our country was desperately trying to pull together its many
diverse peoples into a common national identity. To many writers and educators at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, this also meant having a common national history. This was the era of the "melting pot" theory of social progress, and public education was a major tool for social unity. It was with this in mind that the federal government declared the last Thursday in November
as the legal holiday of Thanksgiving in 1898.
In consequence, what started as an inspirational bit of New England folklore, soon grew into the full-fledged American Thanksgiving we now know. It emerged complete with stereotyped Indians and stereotyped Whites, incomplete history, and a mythical significance as our "First Thanksgiving." But was it really our FIRST American
Now that I have deliberately provoked you with some new information and different opinions, please take the time to read some of the texts in our bibliography. I want
to encourage you to read further and form your own opinions. There really is a TRUE Thanksgiving story of Plymouth Plantation. But I strongly suggest that there
always has been a Thanksgiving story of some kind or other for as long as there have been human beings. There was also a "First" Thanksgiving in America, but it was celebrated thirty thousand years ago.(11) At some time during the New Stone Age (beginning about ten thousand years ago) Thanksgiving became associated with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together, so thanks has also been offered for that gift of fellowship between us all. Every last Thursday in November we now partake in one of the OLDEST and most UNIVERSAL of human celebrations, and THERE ARE MANY THANKSGIVING STORIES TO TELL.
As for Thanksgiving week at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, the friendship was guarded and not always sincere, and the peace was very soon abused. But for three days in
New England's history, peace and friendship were there. So here is a story for your children. It is as kind and gentle a balance of historic truth and positive
inspiration as its writers and this editor can make it out to be. I hope it will adequately serve its purpose both for you and your students, and I also hope this work will encourage you to look both deeper and farther, for Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving all around the world.
Tacoma Public Schools
FOOTNOTES FOR INTRODUCTION
(1) See Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., "The White Man's Indian," references to Puritans, pp. 27, 80-85, 90, 104, & 130.
(2) See Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., "The White Man's Indian," references to frontier concepts of savagery in index. Also see Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of
America," the myth of savagery, pp. 6-12, 15-16, & 109-110.
(3) See Blitzer, Charles, "Age of Kings," Great Ages of Man series, references to Puritanism, pp. 141, 144 & 145-46. Also see Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of
America," references to Puritan human motives, pp. 4-6, 43-44 and 53.
(4) See "Chronicles of American Indian Protest," pp. 6-10. Also see Armstrong, Virginia I., "I Have Spoken," reference to Cannonchet and his village, p. 6. Also see
Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of America," Chapter 9 "Savage War," Chapter 13 "We must Burn Them," and Chapter 17 "Outrage Bloody and Barbarous."
(5) See "Chronicles of American Indian Protest," pp.6-9. Also see Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., "The White Man's Indian," the comments of Cotton Mather, pp. 37 & 82-83.
(6) See Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving," pp. 3-4. Also see Graff, Steward and Polly Ann, "Squanto, Indian Adventurer." Also see "Handbook of North American Indians," Vol. 15, the reference to Squanto on p. 82.
(7) See Benton-Banai, Edward, "The Mishomis Book," as a reference on general "Anishinabe" (the Algonkin speaking peoples) religious beliefs and practices. Also see Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving," reference to religious life on p. 1.
(8) See Graff, Stewart and Polly Ann, "Squanto, Indian Adventurer." Also see Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving." Also see Bradford, Sir William, "Of Plymouth Plantation," and "Mourt's Relation."
(9) See Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving,"the letter of Edward Winslow dated 1622, pp. 5-6.
(10) See "Handbook of North American Indians," Vol. 15, pp. 177-78. Also see "Chronicles of American Indian Protest," p. 9, the reference to the enslavement of King Philip's family. Also see Larsen, Charles, M., "The Real Thanksgiving," pp. 8-11, "Destruction of the Massachusetts Indians."
(11) Best current estimate of the first entry of people into the Americas confirmed by archaeological evidence that is datable.
NA Culture NACulture's note: It is hoped you will also read the foregoing material which contains much important historical information. This was written by a teacher who is also an Indian, for Teachers, with additions by his principal and other teachers. The following is his story for Students, followed by suggestions for enactment and enrichment projects.
THE PLYMOUTH THANKSGIVING STORY
When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620, they landed on the rocky shores of a territory that was inhabited by the Wampanoag (Wam pa NO ag) Indians. The
Wampanoags were part of the Algonkian-speaking peoples, a lare group that was part of the Woodland Culture area. These Indians lived in villages along the coast of what is
now Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They lived in round-roofed houses called wigwams. These were made of poles covered with flat sheets of elm or birch bark. Wigwams
differ in construction from tipis that were used by Indians of the Great Plains.
The Wampanoags moved several times during each year in order to get food. In the spring they would fish in the rivers for salmon and herring. In the planting season they moved to the forest to hunt deer and other animals. After the end of the hunting season people moved inland where there was greater protection from the weather. From
December to April they lived on food that they stored during the earlier months.
The basic dress for men was the breech clout, a length of deerskin looped over a belt in back and in front. Women wore deerskin wrap-around skirts. Deerskin leggings and fur capes made from deer, beaver, otter, and bear skins gave protection during the colder seasons, and deerskin moccasins were worn on the feet. Both men and women usually braided their hair and a single feather was often worn in the back of the hair by men. They did not have the large feathered headdresses worn by people in the Plains Culture area.
There were two language groups of Indians in New England at this time. The Iroquois were neighbors to the Algonkian-speaking people. Leaders of the Algonquin and
Iroquois people were called "sachems" (SAY chems). Each village had its own sachem and tribal council. Political power flowed upward from the people. Any individual, man or woman, could participate, but among the Algonquins more political power was held by men. Among the Iroquois, however, women held the deciding vote in the final
selection of who would represent the group. Both men and women enforced the laws of the village and helped solve problems. The details of their democratic system were so
impressive that about 150 years later Benjamin Franklin invited the Iroquois to Albany, New York, to explain their system to a delegation who then developed the "Albany Plan of Union." This document later served as a model for the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.
These Indians of the Eastern Woodlands called the turtle, the deer and the fish their brothers. They respected the forest and everything in it as equals. Whenever a hunter made a kill, he was careful to leave behind some bones or meat as a spiritual offering, to help other animals survive. Not to do so would be considered greedy. The Wampanoags also treated each other with respect. Any visitor to a Wampanoag home was provided with a share of whatever food the family had, even if the supply was low. This same courtesy was extended to the Pilgrims when they met.
We can only guess what the Wampanoags must have thought when they first saw the strange ships of the Pilgrims arriving on their shores. But their custom was to
help visitors, and they treated the newcomers with courtesy. It was mainly because of their kindness that the Pilgrims survived at all. The wheat the Pilgrims had brought with them to plant would not grow in the rocky soil. They needed to learn new ways for a new world, and the man who came to help them was called "Tisquantum" (Tis
SKWAN tum) or "Squanto" (SKWAN toe).
Squanto was originally from the village of Patuxet (Pa TUK et) and a member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation. Patuxet once stood on the exact site where the Pilgrims
built Plymouth. In 1605, fifteen years before the Pilgrims came, Squanto went to England with a friendly English explorer named John Weymouth. He had many adventures and learned to speak English. Squanto came back to New England with Captain Weymouth. Later Squanto was captured by a British slaver who raided the village and sold Squanto to the Spanish in the Caribbean Islands. A Spanish Franciscan priest befriended Squanto and helped him to get to Spain and later on a ship to England. Squanto then found Captain Weymouth, who paid his way back to his homeland. In England Squanto met Samoset of the Wabanake (Wab NAH key) Tribe, who had also left his native home with an English explorer. They both returned together to Patuxet in 1620. When they arrived, the village was deserted and there were skeletons everywhere. Everyone in the village had died from an illness the English slavers had left behind. Squanto and Samoset went to stay with a neighboring village of Wampanoags.
One year later, in the spring, Squanto and Samoset were hunting along the beach near Patuxet. They were startled to see people from England in their deserted village. For several days, they stayed nearby observing the newcomers. Finally they decided to approach them. Samoset walked into the village and said "welcome," Squanto soon joined him. The Pilgrims were very surprised to meet two Indians who spoke English.
The Pilgrims were not in good condition. They were living in dirt-covered shelters, there was a shortage of food, and nearly half of them had died during the winter.
They obviously needed help and the two men were a welcome sight. Squanto, who probably knew more English than any other Indian in North America at that time, decided to stay with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive in this new place. He brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses.
He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicine. He explained how to dig and cook clams, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival.
By the time fall arrived things were going much better
for the Pilgrims, thanks to the help they had received. The corn they planted had grown well. There was enough food to last the winter. They were living comfortably in their Indian-style wigwams and had also managed to build one European-style building out of squared logs. This was their church. They were now in better health, and they knew more about surviving in this new land. The Pilgrims decided to have a thanksgiving feast to celebrate their good fortune. They had observed thanksgiving feasts in November as religious obligations in England for many years before coming to the New World.
The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator
for the maple tree and its syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat down to the "first Thanksgiving" with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them! Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, invited Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit (the leader of the
Wampanoags), and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but they had no idea how big Indian families could be. As the Thanksgiving feast began, the Pilgrims were overwhelmed at the large turnout of ninety relatives that Squanto and Samoset brought with them. The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed a gathering of people that large for three days. Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men within the first hour of his arrival to go home and get more food. Thus it happened that the Indians supplied the majority of the food: Five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread, and berries. Captain Standish sat at one end of a long table and the Clan Chief Massasoit sat at the other end. For the first time the Wampanoag people were sitting at a table to eat instead of on mats or furs spread on the ground. The Indian women sat together with the Indian men to eat. The Pilgrim women, however, stood quietly behind the table and waited until after their men had eaten, since that was their custom.
For three days the Wampanoags feasted with the Pilgrims. It was a special time of friendship between two very different groups of people. A peace and friendship
agreement was made between Massasoit and Miles Standish giving the Pilgrims the clearing in the forest where the old Patuxet village once stood to build their new town of Plymouth.
It would be very good to say that this friendship lasted a long time; but, unfortunately, that was not to be. More English people came to America, and they were not in need of help from the Indians as were the original Pilgrims. Many of the newcomers forgot the help the Indians had given them. Mistrust started to grow and the friendship weakened. The Pilgrims started telling their Indian neighbors that their Indian religion and Indian customs were wrong. The Pilgrims displayed an intolerance toward the Indian religion similar to the intolerance displayed
toward the less popular religions in Europe. The relationship deteriorated and within a few years the children of the people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what came to be called King Phillip's War.
It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at
the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival. Here is part of what was said:
"Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a
heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was
the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.
Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a
better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important."
Accurate Thanksgiving Food
-- corn soup (see recipe)
-- succotash (see recipe)
-- white fish
-- red meat
-- various fowl (turkey, partridge, duck)
-- berries (including whole cranberries)
-- maple sugar candies
-- corn starch candy (believe it or not, candy corn is
almost authentic except for the colored dyes)
-- any kind of bean (red, black, green, pinto)
-- sweet potato
"An Educational Coloring Book of Northeast Indians," Spizzirri Publishing Company, Illinois, 1982.
Arber, Edward, "Plymouth Colony Records," Boston, Massachusetts, 1897.
Armstrong, Virginia Irving, "I Have Spoken," Pocket Books, New York, 1972.
Benton-Banai, Edward, "The Mishomis Book," Indian Country Press, Inc., Saint Paul, Minn., 1979.
Berkhofer, Jr., Robert F, "The White Man's Indian," Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1978.
Blitzer, Charles, "Age of Kings," Great Ages of Man Series, Time-Life Books, Time, Inc., New York, 1967.
Bradford, Sir William, and Winslow, Edward, "Of Plymouth Plantation" and Mourt's Relation," Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, Tri-centennial Edition, 1922.
"Chronicles of American Indian Protest," The Council on Interracial Books for Children, Fawcett Pub. Inc., Greenwich, Conn., 1971.
Epstein, Sam and Beryl, "European Folk Festivals," Garrand Publishing Company, Champagne, Illinois, 1968.
Dalgliesh, Alice, "The Thanksgiving Story," Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1954.
Forbes, Jack D., "The Indian in America's Past," Prentice Hall, Inc., 1964.
Graff, Stewart and Polly Ann, "Squanto, Indian Adventurer," Garrard Publishing Company, Illinois, 1965.
"Handbook of North American Indian series, Volume 15, "History of the Indians of the Northeast," Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1978.
"Harpers' Popular Cyclopaedia of United States History," Vol. 1 & 2, Harper and Brothers, Pub., Franklin Square, New York, 1892.
Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of America," W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 1976.
Larsen, Charles M., "The Real Thanksgiving," Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma, Washington, 1981.
Leiser, Julia, "Famous American Indians and Tribes," Youth Publications, Saturday Evening Post Company, 1977.
Ross, Cathy and Fernandes, Roger, "Woodland Culture Area," Curriculum Associates, Seattle, Washington, 1979.
Russell, Howard S., "Indians in New England Before the Mayflower," University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1986.
Simmons, William S., "Spirit of the New England Tribes, Indian History and Folklore 1620-1984," University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1985.
A THANKSGIVING PRAYER FROM THE IROQUOIS (SENECA) PEOPLE
Gwa! Gwa! Gwa! Now the time has come! Hear us, Lord of the Sky! We are here to speak the truth, for you do not hear lies, We are your children, Lord of the Sky. Now begins the Gayant' gogwus This sacred fire and sacred tobacco And through this smoke We offer our prayers We are your children, Lord of the Sky. Now in the beginning of all things You provided that we inherit your creation You said: I shall make the earth on which people shall live And they shall look to the earth as their mother And they shall say, "It is she who supports us." You said that we should always be thankful For our earth and for each other So it is that we are gathered here We are your children, Lord of the Sky. Now again the smoke rises And again we offer prayers You said that food should be placed beside us And it should be ours in
exchange for our labor. You thought that ours should be a world where green grass of many kinds should grow You said that some should be medicines And that one should be Ona'o the sacred food, our sister corn You gave to her two clinging sisters beautiful Oa'geta, our sister beans and bountiful Nyo'sowane, our sister squash The three sacred sisters; they who sustain us. This is what you thought, Lord of the Sky. Thus did you think to provide for us And you ordered that when the warm season comes, That we should see the return of life And remember you, and be thankful, and gather here by the sacred fire. So now again the smoke arises We the people offer our prayers We speak to you through the rising smoke We are thankful, Lord of the Sky.
(Liberally translated) Chuck Larsen, Seneca
Corn was a very important crop for the people of the northeast woodlands. It was the main food and was eaten at every meal. There were many varieties of corn -- white,
blue, yellow and red. Some of the corn was dried to preserve and keep it for food
throughout the winter months. Dried corn could be made into a food called hominy. To make hominy, the dried corn was soaked in a mixture of water and ashed for two days. When the kernels had puffed up and split open, they were drained and rinsed in cold water. Then the hominy was stir-fried over a fire. You can buy canned hominy in most grocery stores. Perhaps someone in your class would like to bring some for everyone to sample.
Corn was often ground into corn meal, using wooden mortars and pestles. The mortars were made of short logs which were turned upright and hollowed out on the top end. The corn was put in the hollow part and ground by pounding up and down with a long piece of wood which was rounded on both ends. This was called a pestle.
Corn meal could be used to make cornbread, corn pudding,corn syrup, or could be mixed with beans to make succotash. A special dessert was made by boiling corn meal and maple syrup.
All parts of the corn plant were used. Nothing was thrown
away. The husks were braided and woven to make masks, moccasins, sleeping mats, baskets, and cornhusk dolls. Corncobs were used for fuel, to make darts for a game, and were tied onto a stick to make a rattle for ceremonies.
Corn was unknown to the Europeans before they met the Indians. Indians gave them the seeds and taught them how to grow it. Today in the U.S.A., more farm land is used to
grow corn (60 million acres) than any other grain.
Fr om: _Woodland Culture Area_, Ross/Fernandes, 1979
RECIPES FROM THE WOODLAND CULTURE AREA
ROAST CORN SOUP
('o' nanh-dah) by Miriam Lee
12 ears white corn in milky stage
1 # salt pork (lean and fat)
1 # pinto or kidney beans
Using low heat, take corn and roast on top of range (using griddle if your stove is equipped with one) and keep rotating corn until ears are a golden brown. After the corn is roasted, take ears and put on foil covered cookie sheet until cool enough to handle. Scrape each ear once or twice With a sharp knife. Corn is ready for making soup. While corn is being roasted, fill kettle (5 qt. capacity) approximately 3/4 full with hot water and put on to boil along with salt pork which has been diced in small pieces for more thorough cooking. Beans should be sorted for culls, washed twice and parboiled for approximately 35-45 minutes. After parboiling beans, rinse well in tepid water 2 or 3 times. Corn and beans should then be put in kettle
with pork and cooked for about 1 hour. (Note: Beans can also be soaked overnight to cut cooking time when preparing soup).
green corn with kernels removed
fresh shelled beans
enough water to cover
salt and pepper to taste
cubed salt pork
Mix the corn and beans and cover with water. Cook the mixture over medium heat for about a half hour. (Be sure to stir the mixture to avoid scorching.) Add pepper and salt and salt pork if desired.
FROM: _Our Mother Corn_Mather/Fernandes/Brescia 1981
STORY OF THE CORN HUSK DOLL
This legend is told by Mrs. Snow, a talented Seneca craftswoman.
Many, many years ago, the corn, one of the Three Sisters, wanted to make something different. She made the moccasin and the salt boxes, the mats, and the face. She wanted to do something different so the Great Spirit gave her permission. So she made the little people out of corn husk and they were to roam the earth so that they would bring brotherhood and contentment to the Iroquois tribe. But she made one that was very, very beautiful. This beautiful corn person, you might call her, went into the woods and saw herself in a pool. She saw how beautiful she was and she became very vain and naughty. That began to make the people very unhappy and so the Great Spirit decided that wasn't what she was to do. She didn't pay attention to his warning, so the last time the messenger came and told her that she was going to have her punishment. Her punishment would be that she'd have no face, she would not converse
with the Senecas or the birds or the animals. She'd roam the earth forever, looking for something to do to gain her face back again. So that's why we don't put any faces on the husk dolls.
From: _Our Mother Corn_Mather/Fernandes/Brescia 1981