In the fall of 2017, I was given the opportunity to do cultural anthropological research on the resiliency of my heritage, with a specific emphasis on food. There was a period of time where I thought that a research paper would be necessary to display the information that I had obtained throughout the semester. However, given much thoughtful prayer, I have decided to substitute my research paper with this website.
As an Indigenous woman, I believe that the Creator has blessed me with the spiritual gifts needed to do His work here on Turtle Island. In processing the research I obtained for this project, I began to see these gifts unfold themselves. Through the visual arts of photography and video, and the written art of poetry, my prayer is that you, the viewer, will be able to see clearly, through my feminine indigenous lens, the experience of the Tuscarora tribe’s food resiliency.
All nations, races and tribes of people need three things to sustain life: food, water and shelter. On the Tuscarora Indian reservation, sharing a border with the U.S. in upstate NY, there is a resiliency of traditional foods that can be found in the kitchens, fields, barns and households of those who live on Native land.
Kawetetih: they make life.
To the Tuscarora people, the three sisters (corn, beans, squash), are considered to be one of the most sacred things grown by Haudenosaunee families. The traditional corn grown by my relatives (Rickard family), can trace its roots further back to the even the earliest days of the relocation of the tribe, long before the times of the Tuscaroras migrating from the Carolinas to join the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (approximately the earliest 18th century).
Tuscarora corn flourished on the reservation, until the boom in highly mechanized industrial agriculture began in the 1950s. As industrialization took over, only a few families grew the traditional corn. One of the few families who grew the corn were the Rickard family, more specifically Norton Rickard, who died a respected tribal elder in 2009.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my family on the reservation for Thanksgiving. While I was sitting on the land of my great-grandfather, Chief Clinton Rickard, I began to feel in the soil both the spiritual and ecological importance of the three sisters.
Ecologically speaking, the farm land, in order to maintain a sufficient amount of fertility, cannot afford naturally to not to have all three sisters grow on it. The corn provides a pole for the bean plants to climb, the beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the growth of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a “living mulch”, creating a micro-climate to retain moisture in the soil.
Without industrialized farming techniques, these plants would be able to sustain themselves. They are resilient through assimilation, however and are still being grown despite the use of the “newer” farming techniques taught to Natives through forced assimilation.
Spiritually speaking, I found myself in deep contemplative thought. Will the spiritual significance of the three sisters uncover itself soon? Or, was this food just grown for subsistence and had no spiritual significance. I personally believe that far too often, nature provides us with beautiful depictions of different spiritual and religious promises. Maybe the resilience of the three sisters lends itself to something greater and far more Holy than just its biological essence.
Resilience: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to forced assimilation or genocide. The foods that carried the Tuscarora through both forced assimilation and genocide were the three sisters and traditional meat sources.
Hunting is still something being learned by young Tuscarora boys and being taught by older Tuscarora men. For the Rickard family, their main source of meat supply comes from the animals who are equally as indigenous to the lands on which the Tuscarora live. This way of life has sustained itself through the years, and is something that I took great joy in during my Thanksgiving dinner. However, hunting was never truly as at risk of dying as agriculture was for the Tuscarora.
Traditionally, Native American elders call upon the young people in their communities to walk with prayer: to constantly be in state of prayer connection with the Creator, those who came before you, and those who are yet to come.
This project taught me how to do just that. This project taught me that the greatest form of resistance I can show is in the way that I pray. The three sisters are still here today, because of the prayers of the old ones. Those who I am related to who still grow the corn, said that it is extremely important to pray to the Creator for the next year’s crops.
My prayer, for future generations, is that they too will understand the resilience of the traditional foods that they are eating, and that they will walk with prayer everywhere they go.
Thank you for visiting this website. As an anthropologist, I hope that this “not so culturally relative research” offers you an insight as to how my experience as an Indigenous woman relates to food. This website serves as an archive of my experience this semester, and can hopefully assist those not embedded in the Tuscarora food culture with their research.