Earlier this week I wrote about how narrowing down the choice in cultures for First Encounters and focusing strictly on the Mi’kmaq (consequently having to reconsider the inclusion of the Haudenosaunee [or Iroquois]) has resulted in the omission of some very interesting learning points. One of these, which I find particularly fascinating, is the module concerning the Iroquois’ cultivation of the ‘Three Sisters’.
Iroquois legend has it that when Sky Woman’s daughter, Mother Earth, died, from where she was buried sprouted the “Three Sisters”: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These three crops represented food staples for the Iroquois, and by the 16th century, when the French first arrived, they had managed to cultivate a large variety of all three of these crops. The particular way in which these three plants thrive, supporting one another as they grow, is extremely interesting. First, corn seeds are planted in small mounds of dirt that are separated by a few feet. When they begin to grow, beans and squash are planted around the corn in the mound of dirt. The bean plant then climbs the corn stalk, which gives it support, and the squash grows around the plants, keeping the earth rich with nutrients and helping to kill weeds. The Three Sisters were an extremely important part of the Iroquois diet, and these crops contributed to their ability to lead more sedentary lives by not having to continually move to better hunting grounds. This reliable food source was shared with the Europeans, who desperately needed it to survive on the continent. The Europeans, in turn, brought these crops back to Europe, and the soon thereafter the world came to know these important foods.
I suppose what I find most interesting about the Iroquois way of growing crops is that it reflects the “Great Circle of Relations” which so many Canadian First Peoples deeply value as a life philosophy (re: Jan. 3 post). The understanding that everything in life is composed of circular relationships, and that nothing on this planet can be regarded as ‘less’ or ‘more’ than anything else, is perfectly represented in the seemingly reciprocal relationship of the Three Sisters. The ability of one plant to thrive depends on the good health of the other two. In my view, I find it unfortunate that this cooperative relationship, as represented by the Three Sisters, was not reflected in the development of the cross-cultural relationships in North America as the European presence grew.
Unfortunately, due to the reasons given in the previous post, this topic will not be explored in First Encounters, though it would be great to find a way to incorporate it, somehow. Let me ponder this for a while…