Manataka American Indian Council









Green Corn Dance

by Nupah Makah L. Cota

The rain has finished its work the Earth opens its arms to the soft and filling spring rain.

Soon will be  the time to place my feet and hands in the Earth. The swarms of insects including the Maine Black Fly are upon us. Many birds return to the feeders and the open water near the house.  The packages of seed are laying on the counter waiting to be placed into the Earth.  I say to them, "wait a little longer",  and brush my hand across the seedlings in the tray whose fragile stems are so tender.


"Wait my little ones the Earth is not warm enough and the cold comes often at night. You need time to grow and to be stronger to survive out there". 


They nod,  and seem to understand at least the gentle touch of the hand and tone of my voice.

To return to the Earth is to reconnect the bodies to its source of Healing Energy.  Without the feet and hands on the Earth the energy line is broken and the Human body is weakened by this. It is in this time of the year that we hold the Green Corn dance some have clans or societies that make the prayers for the Green Corn.

The seeds of corn are blessed and prayers said to make them strong. We bring out the last corn of the season and with the wild onion that now is appearing make the corn soup.

The corn is set to soak all night in wood ash water to loosen the skins. After that it is washed and then set to cook with wild onion and fat meat.

It will take many hours to cook the big pots of soup for the gathering. We must watch them carefully so that they do not burn on the bottom.  Soon the Corn Planters will come and we will place the first corn into the ground.

We all dress in our best ribbon skirts and blouses.  The young men look so handsome in their dance regalia.  I take out my old blue ribbon dress from many years of corn planting and lay it  on the bed to help remove the wrinkles. The moccasins will have to do they like me have seen better days.

It is of no matter at my age I leave the fancy dresses to those much younger. This dress has seen many plantings and will perhaps see many more.
The soup is done and we sit some corn bread and mix the fry bread dough for frying. I have taken out some of our last year plum jam to serve with the fry bread; it will taste so good.

At last on the horizon I see the first of the old beat up pickups rolling down over the hill. Rattle and clanging all the way.

They are loaded down with people, tents and provisions for the weekend.

One old truck holds the Clan Mother for the Corn dance she is sitting on her rocker in the back of the pickup bed.

Wrapped in her blankets she sits there like some ancient Queen on her throne. All around her are  the smaller children piled in every which way.  The trucks and old cars  land in the yard with a sputtering of motors and squeal brakes. The contents seem to spill out all over the place as the make shift tent village is constructed.

Like magic the place come alive with laughter and the sounds of children running and playing.

I hear my uncles laugh over this all he is always laughing for no apparent reason at all.

It was the war that made him this way,  he was held prisoner for many months by the Germans.

He once said, "you have a choice,  you can laugh or cry,  I chose to laugh."

Grandmother is taken out of the pickup truck by the strong young men. She is still setting in her rocking chair as they place her  in the shade of an old tree.
Grandmother supervises the building of the fire pit and controls the actual lighting of the fire when it is time.

Many more trucks and old rusted out cars come to fill in the spaces. Soon the camp is in order and we start the drum and the singing.

Woven  bags of corn are brought out for the planting and shell hoes are used to simulate the old time ways.

The ground is made ready and the people stand in a circle around the fire to await the lighting.

Soon the oldest Elder starts his prayers with the words: "These are the words that come before all else."  Each in turn of the Green Corn Clan repeat a part of this prayer of the "Words that come before all else".

Stooping down the Elder strikes the flint to the stone and soon the flame is lit. He passes a lighted branch  to the Clan Mother and she tosses it into the fire saying,  "and now there is fire." The Clan Grandmother opens her small bag of herbs and take out a hand full of corn meal this she also tosses into the fire saying, "and now there is food for the people."

One man offers water to the fire another offers tobacco soon the prayers are done and we are free to leave the sacred fire. Every morning we will gather at this fire and make our morning prayers. We will keep this fire alive for the entire three days of the ceremony.

This fire will be fed for the three days of planting it will not go out in all of these days.  When the  ceremony is over on the last day,  the ashes taken home by each person who attended the ceremony.

The drum is started and the words said, "this is the sacred heart beat of our people Creator hear us."

"See the faces of the human beings and know we are here still on this Earth Mother. We offer you corn and water, we offer you fire and sacred herbs." May you make the Earth ready for our planting,  may you make her fertile to produce the food for our children."

When this is all said and it can take over two hours the people are free to go and make camp.

We call in the young strong men to carry out the big kettles of corn soup and fry bread for the first feast.

It is all taken to the Sacred Fire where it will remain warm until the sun has left the sky.

When all is dark the soup and fry bread will be served to the people.

Night darkens still deeper as the people gather around the fire for company and warmth. 

The drum never stops its heart beat but sometimes can brake into song and all will sing along.

The old songs are taken out of the memory and shared with the new generation who sit at the fire.

Stories are told and funny things shared until sleepy heads nod and we all find our blankets for the night.

I lay for a long time looking out at the stars from my tent flap.  The clear sky is filled with them tonight so close you can almost touch them.
Soon Grandmother Moon appears and the stars dim in her light.

Morning comes and we hear the morning song sung by our Elder Women they come around with the gourd rattles and hand drums to each tent.

We all crawl out of the tents and go to the fire for morning prayers.

Today we plant the first corn so we must be very clear in our hearts and minds for this to be a good crop.

Small children are running in between the people and they are picked up and held by Uncles and Aunts. There are never angry words spoken to the children they are just there as apart of the family. No one says to them go to your Mother or Father,  because we are all one family.

Hungry babies are fed,  small children are changed and fed, loving arms  cuddle and noses are wiped.

I stand back behind the Grandmother and watch as the day unfolds. Soon they come to bring Grandmother to the field. Back she goes into the old truck bed and taken out to the place where we are to plant the first corn.

Again the prayers of the Human Beings are spoken,  like they have been for thousands of years.

Grandmother asks for the young men to open the ground and place that piece of earth in her hand. They take a small patch of sod and grass into her hands. Grandmother then speaks to the Earth in her own language and then returns it to the men to place back into the hole it came from.

She has just ask the Earth's permission to open her and plant the seeds.

Not the planting starts we all take a part of this some making the holes some placing in the corn in a sacred way. We add tobacco to the holes then three piece of corn and pat the Earth down over them.

Later on the fish heads will come when the time is right. These will help the corn to grow strong and produce many ears.

During this time we will all come to celebrate the summer dance and games or "The Gathering of the Clans".

There will be many times we come together for the corn. The last one is the harvest and that is again a three day and night gathering. In this time we will gather the corn and dance and celebrate the harvest with many dishes of meat from the hunt and fish from the river.

This will be celebrated with many corn dishes too. One of my favorite dishes is the Indian Corn Pudding.

All to soon the old cars and trucks are loaded and the people leave just as they came rattling and clanging up the hill out of the valley.
I watch as the Grandmother is placed in her rocking chair into the back of the truck and then wave a farewell to them all.

Now we are keeping watch over the corn and we must be careful to make sure it is safe.

We make a scare crow to place in the center of the field and then several more flashy items on posts to keep the crows out of the patch as the corn starts to mature.

The dogs are let lose now at night so that they can patrol the corn fields and scare away the raccoons.

Summer comes and we are very busy with the gardens and the gathering of wild berries and other herbs for the winter time.
I watch the tall corn as it stretches into full growth heavy with the ears of corn.

One morning I hear the sound of the trucks before I can see them and know it is now time to gather the corn. This will be the first gathering and eating of the new crop.

Later on in the Fall we will come one last time to gather the corn for shucking and drying. This is my favorite time of all gatherings.

We will shuck the green corn and then braid it into long ropes for drying in the sheds. By November the corn will be divided among the clan and all will have food for the winter months.

Some day before my hand and eyes get too tired I will make a quilt of this ceremony like my Grandmother once used. It told the story of the corn from the first corn brought to this Earth by Corn Woman too the planting, and harvest ceremony. 

Many Blessings Nupah Makah

Copywrite (C) 2009 by Nupah Makah L. Cota
All publication rights reserved.





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