By Danielle Hill, Mashpee-Wampanoag
Earlier this year we shared the story of the King Philip Corn in our Plant A Seed campaign and shared the corn seeds with hundreds of gardeners and school gardens across the country. The seeds themselves were shared with Slow Food by the seed company True Love Seeds, a farm-based seed company that not only sells open pollinated seeds, but also works to sell culturally important seeds and reconnect them to the people whose culture’s they come from.
For the seeds of the King Philip Corn this connection meant reaching back in history a bit further than most seeds and returning the corn to the land of the Wampanoag, where it is believed to have originated from and where it was stolen from generations ago.
Today, Danielle Hill, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has planted these seeds with the help of other members of the Tribe. The story of these seeds is about so much more than growing food. Danielle has written about this on her blog, which we are sharing with you here.
Corn stolen from my ancestors have found their way back to Wampanoag hands. These seeds have entered our community and have carefully chosen thier caretakers. (Are we taking care of them, or are they taking care of us… hmm). They have asked us to place them back into the soil so they can feast upon the minerals, organic matter, and the blood and bones of the land. After hundreds of years, I think it is so special – sacred even – that we, Wampanoag people, are growing our own heritage corn again.
And don’t tell me we aren’t corn people! I’m not going to let our fish and deer brothers overshadow our sister just because we have lost touch with her. I love and appreciate them too, but we are corn people simply because we grew corn. It is logical to conclude that we also had ceremonies for her and feasts to celebrate her. She was special to us and still is.
Our ancestors relied upon corn for sustenance for a significant portion of our history… At minimum 400 years since the arrival of the Pilgrims, but we know our relationship with this 6,000-year-old species started well before those lost souls stepped foot upon our sands…
She is a goddess. She is our ancient relative. Her genetic memory is the culmination of earth and water from all over the world. With every bite she transfers that knowledge directly into our DNA. Let us merge our souls and re-member who we are.
There was a time when Wampanoag people were free to live; to be happy, healthy, and in connection with the waters, animals and seasons. We had strong loving family bonds that were safe, secure and supportive. We fed ourselves and each other. Our bodies were perfect. Our minds were alive. Our spirits were energetic.
We can only imagine how amazing our ancestors were.
How can we get closer to freedom?
This is what Tribal Food Sovereignty is all about.
Sovereignty = freedom= power.
Corn Mother has come back to help us get closer to how we so desperately yearn to be. Her very function is abundance (look at all them kernels!) and her very essence is nutrition (she is milk, flour, bread and soup!) If we take care of her, what will she gift us in return?
I am honored to be a #SeedKeeper and this plant sister has been in and out of my life ever since I was an adolescent. It’s hard to say when it truly began or when my unconscious connection became a conscious reality.
Was it sitting on the corn watch tower at Plimoth Plantation as a young girl?
Was it unknowingly painting her and dancing with her on my first eastern blanket regalia… Was it dreaming of her during my pregnancies where I’m husking giant corn and revealing the face of my baby…. Or being told to keep her close as I deliver because she is the protector of blood? There are many more instances and it is amazing how I didn’t even know the depth of our relationship. Something pushed me to grow out Black Aztec Corn last year in my front lawn, determined to squeeze out every bit of potential in my yard and learn firsthand. #FoodNotLawns.
This year, we planted her on May 11, during high noon under the new moon. An amazing group of Mashpee Wampanoag folks came out and helped to sew her seeds that day. We spent the 8 weeks prior blessing the grounds, preparing the soil, blessing the seeds, planning the plot, putting up fencing and just feeling excited.
Today as an Indigenous person paying to live on my own land is unacceptable. Today, for our tribe to still fight the same 400 year old fight to keep our reservation in our hands is just plain exhausting. To be part of a Tribe with just shy of 3,000 citizens and only a handful of us growing our own food is a disgrace. We ALL should have the time, freedom, knowledge, seeds and land to feed ourselves. Land and Health go hand-in-hand.
Land is hard to come by here in Mashpee. Can’t buy. Can’t rent. Overpriced and overpopulated. In my opinion, it is only desirable because subconsciously people are sickly attracted to stolen land and it probably feels more exclusive to have something you don’t deserve. Everyone knows this is Mashpee Wampanoag land. You see us in the news, in the paper, in the grocery store. You come to the Pow-wow. You hear those drums and probably see our ancestors in the woods at night because your house is built on a gravesite… (“oh you found bones… just push those aside and pour the concrete”). So don’t pretend that when you walk onto your property, or onto the beach, or in our woods that you don’t know you are on #StolenLand…. Even if the town website has no mention of us, we know that is deliberate omission. Even when you click on the FAKE link they have on their website, we can conclude that racism, fear and greed is still active inside the minds of our town selectmen.
Food Sovereignty is not just about access to healthy and affordable food – It is access and control over land so that way tribes can grow their own food and create their own food economies. I don’t have much land of my own and my soil is too sandy for her to thrive, so I’m planting down the tribal farm: one of the few places that we can feel sovereign. It has been 7 years since I last planted there and every day is a new surprise with all the wildlife…Hawks, Eagles, Blue Herons, Turtles… Mashpee is just so abundant with different species. Can we please say NO to more development? Ugh.
Eating like my ancestors is something I strive to do. Living like my ancestors is my dream. It starts with just one seed and this is nothing more than some good ol’ #FoodForThought Stay Tuned…!
To learn more about Tribal Food Sovereignty – I’m teaching a course this fall at UMass Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture called Native Food Systems. Learn more here. ~With Love and Gratitude~