PLANTING CORN, NOT PIPELINES : Kitchencounterculture gets fascinated by people in Nebraska reminding us of the importance of corn as a central and a symbolic food… linking climate, water and food movements … bringing together unlikely allies. The Cowboy-Indian Alliance protests in an exciting new way. Read on…
People in rural Nebraska are protesting the Keystone Pipeline running through their lands, and doing it in an exciting way, reflecting agricultural history and a vision for the future.. Thanks to the internet, one can live halfway across a large yet small world and find oneself piecing together a story that makes important connections between food and climate movements. Watch this local newscast:
The Cowboy Indian Alliance represents the fact that new coalitions and allegiances are necessary to a diverse Climate Movement. Read about it via 350.org and in this link, with great photos. The symbolism of the alliance, two groups so mythically/historically/stereotypically opposed, speaks loudly against the dangers of the Keystone Pipeline, and of the Tar Sands project too, regarding climate instability as overarching and destruction of water supplies and communities as immediate..
The protests in Washington DC were a national display for work that is happening at community levels, as reflected in Bold Nebraska, which is working locally in that state, through which the proposed Keystone Pipeline will run, threatening water among other elements crucial to healthy land and farming.
What is more symbolic of modern American agriculture (and agribusiness!) than corn? And what is more central to Native American culture, history, spirituality, myth, diet and material culture, than corn? If this aspect of the importance of corn is unfamiliar to you, just have a look on this website or through this old book to see its historic centrality of corn. It’s more “American” than apple pie.
So you have the ranchers (“The Cowboys”) growing crop art with corn and soybeans:
and you have “The Indians” planting corn, as you can see on this set of photos on Flickr (I especially love the shot of the jewel-like corn seeds in the colourful woven basket) — and reported in the newscast above. You can read the Bold Nebraska press release in this link.
“We’re going to stand together with the cowboys—the ranchers and farmers—in our Nebraska homeland,” said [Native Rights Activist] Horinek. “Together our families will plant sacred red corn seed in our ancestral soil. As the corn grows it will stand strong for us, to help us protect and keep Mother Earth safe for our children, as we fight this battle against the Keystone XL pipeline.”
The press release– really worth reading– also briefly describes some history of the Ponca people, who in 1877 were violently evicted from their land. “Because they were removed in May, the Ponca had already planted their corn and were forced to leave with few corn seeds. When they arrived in Oklahoma at the end of the summer it was too late to plant, and the community faced starvation.”
Seed activists understand, in this historical context, how precious seeds are to communities who have developed varieties through generations– the extreme specificity to cooking, growing conditions, cooking traditions and technology, and aesthetic/ taste preferences. Diversity in corn varieties is important to protect in so many parts of the world especially nowadays, as an international issue that plays out locally. Read this piece on Seed Saving, Seed Banks and “Cultural Recovery.”
The lost Ponca seed became something that one Amos Hinton, Agricultural Director of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, also an agronomist, sought to find and replant. From what I can read, he seems to be an amazing hero of Food Sovereignty and food heritage, working as well to establish a healthy pork project to address hunger among Elders. If you are interested, this and this and this are interesting in piecing together a puzzle of particular varieties of corn lost (and sometimes shared among Plains Tribes) and found. It’s one of the sacred old varieties the Ponca have recently planted in acreage of the proposed pipeline route.
I’d love to know some Ponca recipes to share with Kitchencounterculture readers. If anybody with Ponca heritage and an interest in cooking might be reading this, please please please send in a recipe! And I’ll try to cook it, even if the type of corn on hand for me makes it a little less “authentic,” and post it, and everyone can enjoy…
In the meantime, praise to the collective contributions of the internet, here is Nativetech,,..an enticing resource for recipes, written by people with a real commitment to sharing delicious food, an important and sacred shared heritage. And there’s food.com as well, with loads to offer as well, and another here. These are pages from Oklahoma archives that discuss different modes of cooking corn.
Regarding another variety of Native American corn, from an organic gardener’s point of view, here’s an interesting article as well.
The Ponca strategy to protest the pipeline by an affirmation, of cultural heritage and corn, inspires our movements to connect different dots, in terms of social justice, ecology, climate, food, and community. As our climate responds, scary feedback by scary feedback, to industrial assaults, there’s a feeling of emergency as well as a sense of how precious and sacred everything really is. How we go about living together is how we’ll fare in the future; it’s our resilience, or not. An ugly spectre of Climate Chaos is communities set against each other by resource depletion, ideology, and everything ugly we’ve learned about how human beings behave during times of stress. But we know it doesn’t have to be this way, not necessarily, and we yearn for examples that show unity and identify real threats, not paranoid ones, in diverse social contexts. The Cowboy Indian Alliance have responded inspirationally.
And a kind of postscript:
Writing this blog piece, gathering these links, I’ve learned a lot and realised how much more there is to explore. Here are some of them– not necessarily directly relevant to Ponca Corn and Pipeline Protest, but maybe part of a general world-vision in which nothing is not connected…
–These are two groups I’d like to mention, who do powerful work on issues I care about.
Idle No More, a grassroots Indigenous movement to protect land and water in Canada
Indigenous Environmental Network (I’ve linked to their page on Food Sovereignty issues but this group is engaged on many fronts. But loads of great food projects too, since this is a food blog after all!)
–This is an interactive map going around social media that shows loss of Indian land through time– pretty horrific really. People in the USA must never forget this aspect of their history.
–Regarading health, food, and poverty in Native communities, there is a growing movement seeking to address these interrelated elements through “decolonizing the diet” with original and wild foods. This is a particularly interesting article in Al Jazeera.
“While there might be similarities to the so-called “Paleo diet” or the locavore movement,” the piece says, “…decolonizing a diet is deeper and darker. Indigenous people making the quest to reconnect to their food traditions confront both a landscape that has changed and a culture that has changed.The project was called decolonizing for a reason… Once you’ve gone through that colonizing process, you can never truly be decolonized again. To me, it’s like oppression. Once you’ve dealt with oppression, it’s not like you can ever be non-oppressed. You will always have a scar, and the scar becomes part of your identity.”
This is Permaculture organisation dealing with these issues from a Permaculture point of view in Hopi and Pueblo areas.
And a beautiful collection of very natural, nourishing, nutritious and beautiful “Indigenous Eating” recipes here. I want to base my next Thanksgiving meal on these kind of recipes.