Tsyunhehkwa- Information Page
The beginning of our Mother Earth occurred when Sky Woman fell from a hole near the Tree of Life. When she was falling from her world, she grabbed at the sides of the ground near the tree and had took with her seeds of various plant life. A number of birds saw her fall from the sky and came together to help her descend safely and placed her on the back of a large turtle. Life at that time was mostly birds and water animals, with no land in sight. They understood she needed more to survive in their world, so some of the animals dove deep into the water to bring clay up from the bottom. The clay was placed on the back of the turtle, which began to expand to form Turtle Island, and become part of Mother Earth. The seeds that Sky Women had brought with her began to grow into the plants and herbal life needed for survival. Plants grown from those first seeds included Corn, Beans, and Squash, and became the Three Sisters for our people. They are the main providers for our sustenance. It is our tradition and responsibility to honor our sustainers.
"When the humans had been created, shukwaya?tisu instructed them that all that was needed for a good life was readily available to them. They would want for nothing, there was water food, medicines-everything needed to sustain them. All that was asked of the humans was to gather what was provided and give thanks. On^yote?aka Oneida Cultural Belief"
Over time, we failed to provide this recognition and ignored our responsibilities. In time a Seneca prophet of the people named Handsome Lake, who shared his visions that were granted him by the creator, shared his discussions with the Three Sisters. He was preparing to leave this world and was asked by the Three Sisters to take them with him. He wanted them to stay because the people would not survive without them. Handsome Lake knew the children would go hungry, and that everyone would have no food to live and strengthen their bodies. The Three Sisters wanted to leave this world because we were not recognizing them in our ceremonies and giving thanks for all that they provide. Handsome Lake knew this was true, but said he could not make that decision for them on leaving because it was the Creator who would decide. Handsome Lake asked them not to leave until he would talk to the people, and the Three Sisters agreed to wait and see what the people would do.
Handsome Lake explained to the people that they had forgotten their responsibilities, and that the Three Sisters were going to leave this world if the people continued in this way. The people recognized they had failed and began again to honor the Three Sisters in their ceremonies. During our ceremonies we open with our Thanksgiving address. At that time all of creation is listening to make sure that we mention them, and provide them proper recognition. The people included the Corn, Beans, and Squash, and they have continued to stay with us. We continue today in honoring all of creation, and we recognize the Three Sisters in our ceremonies. As we care for the Three Sisters, we continue to learn how to accomplish this, and share that knowledge. Caring for the White Corn goes hand in hand with caring for and respecting our natural environment and all that it provides in return. It is our job to respect all that the Creator has offered, and we look at food as the natural medicines and health provided for us by the Creator.
We began this season with a recognition for the Seeds that we planted. A tobacco burning is a traditional way to honor and recognize our White Corn, including those Community members that are planting their corn, their gardens and the responsibility that we all have in caring for our sustainers.
We will be holding our 14th Annual Community Harvest and Husking Bee in the Fall of 2007. It is our custom to harvest our sustenance by bringing the Community together to complete all of our responsibilities. During the Harvest and Husking Bee we share the knowledge of snapping, husking and braiding our White Corn. With community support the corn is hand harvested and braided to dry in the Oneida tradition. The entire program is involved during this time. We coordinate all efforts in harvesting the fields, and keeping everyone in a good mind and place. It has always been natural for us to share stories and laugh when we come together. It is usually at each other’s expense, but it is all in humor. Meals are provided during the harvest, and everyone is welcome.
Products from our White Corn include Raw Corn, Dehydrated Corn, Corn Soup, Corn Bread, and Flour. These products are processed at our Cannery, and are available at our Retail Store. Nutritional analysis completed on our Corn has shown a higher value of protein compared with other varieties of conventional corn. The Three Sisters is traditionally one of our primary sustainers, and the health benefits from all three provide many of our nutritional needs.
We cannot do justice to all the areas of tsyunhehkw^, and its people, but I hope this description provides a brief picture of the relationships that we build through working together. We are constantly learning and do not take the approach that we have the answer. Our goal is self sufficiency and providing for our Nation and Community. Communication and cooperation are a vital part of this program and what we believe in and strive for.
We work with the elders in the area, and other programs in the Oneida Nation. The Cultural Heritage Department, Oneida Museum, Conservation Department, Environmental Department and many others work with us toward completing and maintaining our responsibilities. We maintain a very good working relationship with our neighbors and Community. Recently one neighbor, a non-tribal land owner, decided not to have her field planted in order to reduce the risk of cross-pollinating our White Corn with modern corn hybrids. Many natural and organic growers in our area stay in touch with one another, and we all help where we can. I apologize to those people and entities I am forgetting to mention. I personally believe that none of us can complete our responsibilities without the help of one another.
Our program will continue to provide sustenance in a traditional manner. From the beginning of time, the Creation Story tells us that the medicines are placed here for our sustenance. It is our responsibility to honor and acknowledge these spirits, which encourages them to continue with their appointed responsibilities. We continue to include these medicines in our lives. Any questions we can help with please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.