Pollinating Histories

A major goal of our exchange has been to challenge the colonial industrial agricultural system and learn from more holistic Indigenous food practices. In particular, we sought to develop relationships with Indigenous food activists in our own bioregion. In the current political context of truth and reconciliation in Canada, many settlers like ourselves are asking: given the brutal history of colonization and our ancestors’ and our own complicity in it, how can we have a conversation that is respectful?

Chandra introduces the two-row wampum
Rick shares his cradleboard

Food was our entry point, a vehicle for exploring myriad issues: land, non-agricultural food sources, cultural practices and spiritual meanings of food, among others. As the project evolved over time, other activists in broader social movements like the climate justice movement have also acknowledged the need for Indigenous leadership in shifting our minds to a deeper understanding of ‘all our relations.’

At our July 2019 gathering, we visited a longhouse

Unearthing our complex and even contradictory histories is a life-long activity for both settlers and Indigenous peoples, and the two-row wampum has been revived as a useful frame for constructing a relationship based on mutual respect. The two-row wampum served as a treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 1613, an agreement for respectful co-existence, with each nation following its own path while not intervening in the path of the other. When Legacies collaborators gathered at Six Nations in Ontario in July 2019, our hosts Chandra and Rick introduced us to the wampum treaties and also to the longhouse, the communal living quarters of the Haudenosaunee, or the people who extend the house. It was a profound way of welcoming us into their ‘homes’, lives, histories, and shared future.

Legacies partners learn how to make cornbread at Six Nations
Chandra and Rick’s daughters lead us in a dance

As guests1 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, we were invited to participate in the traditional ceremonial protocol led by our Haudenosaunee collaborators Ryan, Rick, and Chandra. As sacred ceremonies, they were not recorded, but our three hosts offer deeper introductions to the underlying Haudenosaunee cosmovision in videos and photos essays.2

Through the two days at Six Nations, we were able to ground our exchange in both historic and current food practices – whether gathering fresh vegetables at the local greenhouse or being served corn soup and strawberry juice at the Everlasting Tree School. We learned about the storage of corn in the longhouse and the preparation of traditional cornbread in the Our Sustenance community kitchen. During our final feast of venison at Chandra and Rick’s home their daughters invited us to join an honor dance, reflecting the integration of food and art.

  1. Ruth Koleszar-Green. What is a Guest? What is a Settler? Cultural and Pedagogical Inquiry, Vol. 2, No. 10 (2018), 166-177.
  2. See “The Thanksgiving Address” video, “The Mush Hole” photo essay, and “Cooking and Eating Together” photo essay.