People of the Corn

Food connects us to culture and history an in way that nothing else does. Part of MAiiZ Nixtamal’s mission is to provide education and resources sharing the importance of nixtamalization, corn and culture, actively working towards sharing this practice with all people. We were honoured when our friend Tai Alfred brought us some Kanen’stóhare Corn Soup – he made using his own hunted moose meat and our Nixtamalized BC Corn. Tai has shared his thoughts on the topic of corn in North America’s Indigenous context.

As much as the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, we Rotinohshonni are people of the corn.

“A few years ago, I started making the effort to turn away from store bought and industrially processed hominy corn and beans and the use of pork as a flavouring meat – these are common in our communities because of the changes in our foodways imposed on us by capitalism and colonization. As part of my own Indigenous resurgence, I started returning to the use of natural ingredients in my own cooking, and respecting the cultural root, and honouring the origins and process, the sacredness, of the Kanen’stóhare as a dish, and as a living symbol of my identity and connection to my homeland and to our ancient history of connection to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Moose Meat & BC Hominy Soup

To Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk people), corn, beans and squash, are what we call The Three Sisters, or in a literal translation of the term in our language, “the life givers.” Our existence has always been intertwined with these plants. Our people and the other nations of the Rotinohshonni, or Iroquois Confederacy, grew and used dozens of varieties of beans, Onenkwénhtara nikasahe’tò:ten, many kinds of Onon’ónsera, squashes, and hundreds of varieties of corn, Ó:nenhste.

Some of these varieties have come to be part of the broader North American diet, like sweet corn, Tekontero:niaks, and popcorn, Watenenhstatákwas. But it is Onenhakén:ra, white corn, that is especially important among our people because it is the ancient seed of our culture, and was carried by our ancestors on their long journey from our ancient origins in the middle south of the Americas, up the Mississippi River and across from the Ohio River to the forests of the valley lands of the great flowing majesty we call Kaniatarowanèn:ne, the St. Lawrence River.

Moose Meat & BC Hominy Soup

The way our ancestors cultivated these plants was a sacred practice, and a ritual manifesting of their worldview. Corn and bean seeds were planted together in small mounds of dirt, corn first, in the middle, the beans a little later and around the edges of the mound – a metaphoric enactment of the life giving gifts’ emergence from the breasts of the first woman, our mother the earth, lain upon the back of the great turtle, A’nó:wara. The ground between them was shaded and its moisture protected by the faster-growing vines of the squashes that had been planted between the mounds. This was the way of our people sustained themselves for thousands of years. The basic food of ancestors was simple but complete nutritionally: hulled corn and beans, squashes, river fish and deer meat.

As much as the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, we Rotinohshonni are people of the corn.

I’m proud that we still have a connection to this way of life. Kanen’stóhare, corn soup, is still a staple for many of our people.”

Taiaiake Alfred

Taiaiake Alfred is from Kahnawà:ke in the Mohawk Nation. From 1996 to 2019, he was a Professor of Indigenous Governance and Political Science at the University of Victoria. He is the recipient of a Canada Research Chair, the award for best column writing by the Native American Journalists Association, and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award. Visit his webpage for more.

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