DescriptionEach summer, we grow herbs, flowers and a specific corn from our tribal community (the Eastern Shawnee) or my Grandfather’s tribal heritage, the Myaamia. We live in the suburbs, so we don’t have lots of room to garden and since corn easily cross-pollinates, we want to keep the corn seed true and connect with our heritage from afar.
This year, it took on more significance as we grew the three sisters, this time growing a heritage popcorn seed I purchased online. Our hands soaked the corn before planting (a Shawnee tradition learned from my Grandmother) which connected us to her memory and knowledge that came from generations before.
We planted the corn in the morning, just after the dew thawed and about when the leaves on the dogwood trees in the neighborhood were the size of a squirrel’s ear, our eyes attentive to notice the dogwood trees and see that many signs of nature told us when to plant. The popcorn, I learned from one of our language speakers, is called skilpothee in Shawnee language, and when said quickly, the breath punctual, it sounds like the kernels bursting over high heat when hot.
As the corn stalks rose to knee high over several weeks, it became time to plant the beans, this time a scarlet runner bean, also called a bear bean in some tribal communities. I asked why it was called a bear bean and never heard, but my guess is that the bean looks like a bear’s fur, though I haven’t gotten close enough to a mama bear and cubs to be sure.
The pumpkins, wapiko, also went in, one of my all - time favorite vegetables because of their deep, joyful orange and the creed to use all parts of it, which aligns so well with my happiness when being resourceful. I told the kids that this food, and there are several varieties, has also sustained our Shawnee people for thousands of years and what we call an “Indian” pumpkin is used for feasts today.
Small, dry hands dug the clay dirt of Virginia piedmont soil under humid air often. We marveled as our beans wound up, growing towards the sky in a counter - clockwise motion. This became a teaching moment with my children to share about a bean dance stil l done today at our ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma, where our Shawnee families and tribe is today. We wouldn’t be attending our annual homecoming powwow the third week in September due to COVID, nor attend our ceremonial dances that are called in Spring and Fall. We wouldn’t have the personal interactions with community but every time we noticed a miraculous discovery in the garden, witnessed bees, birds, and squirrels find cover, nectar or food in our little garden patch, we were reminded of the larger family we belong to, that of our extended family, our tribe, and that of all living beings. We were connected to other families growing foods in their own yards, containers, and lands and beyond space and time to ancestral teachings of the past and hope for the future. Growing fed our spirits as well as our bodies and minds. We ate popcorn we grew for the first time with our family secret recipe. Usually, we share it with neighbors and friends, as people request the pleasurable popcorn. That wasn’t possible this year with COVID, but I did send seeds and braided, colorful corn to family and close friends to share the abundance and to generate seed sharing.
There were days when I struggled to get the kids involved in planting, weeding, and even harvesting, but with a steady hand, I guided and cajoled them to participate when watering, allowing some fun on a hot summer day while also ensuring the hose pressure would water deeply and not knock down the plants. Many kids today are limited in their experiences to see a reaction and how the world works in a physical, dexterous way, beyond a virtual world where dramatically lives are lost with the click of a thumb on key, so I had to train the hose at the base of the plants gently, teaching the kids how so they wouldn’t become moldy. My hope is that my kids take away some good memories of the summer we planted popcorn. The garden healed as a salve for our hearts, trained our minds to be more thoughtful, and to use our ears and eyes more to listen.
Story contrbuted by Renee G. (Eastern Shawnee)