On a cool and crisp November morning, participants of the first Braiding the Sacred gathering cleared and prepared the community gardens at Bird Creek Farms for winter.
The three-day gathering, Nov. 3-5, was the first of its kind in northeastern Oklahoma, bringing together 40 traditional corn growers from all over the country. They discussed various methods of seed preservation, food preparation, food gathering techniques, growing traditional foods and the best methods to help their respective tribal communities. Spearheading the gathering was Osage tribal member Keir Johnson-Reyes.
“Other tribes, they have similar struggles and similar successes. At times, it’s challenging to engage fellow tribal members in some of the important work around seed preservation but we also have a lot of interest emerging in our communities to begin growing more of our traditional foods and getting back to hunting and fishing,” he said. “Some of these important cultural elements of our ways show that food is a leveling force and we can at times get caught up with the day to day, but when we’re around the table and eating our traditional Osage foods it’s a powerful unifier. It was very nice to see that represented at our gathering.”
Tribes represented at the gathering included Cherokee Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Onondaga Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes, and more, he said. The biggest learning experience for him was watching the Osage cooks prepare the food.
“I’ve had just the absolute joy of working with some of our Pawhuska District cooks and just talking with them about food preparation, and the protocols. It has just been a really neat opportunity for me,” he said. “I’m someone who’s grown up in California and works diligently to maintain and grow a connection with our people out here in Oklahoma.”
Over the three days, the growers shared their stories in Talking Circles about their triumphs, their failures, and how to overcome. The first evening they played an Osage handgame, enjoyed a social dance and ate a traditional Osage meal prepared by Ginger Hollis and Marjorie Williams.
The second day of the gathering was filled with presentations, educational films and documentaries, planning and discussion. That evening they were special guests at Joe Hall’s Fall Dance in the Grayhorse Village. Blessings for the participants were given by Everett Waller and Hall.
A presentation was made by Angela Ferguson, Onondaga, and Roger Cook, Mohawk, on the methods of growing by the Onondaga Nation Farm Crew. Ferguson said that growing traditional foods for your community is more than just giving away vegetables, it’s a source of empowerment for the Native community.
“We also deliver meat and fish and it’s had a huge impact on the male community and the youth, feeling such a useful part of who they are because that is what they used to do,” Ferguson said. “I think us getting back to that has helped to empower our men, I’m seeing it happen on a lot of different nations and I could see that happen here.”
She said the Onondaga have invested in growers for their community gardens and she employs 14 people, with four of those workers fishing and hunting full time. She said they also have youth working in the community gardens for the Onondaga with elders, and it is in the garden where they are bridging the gap. She said she has approval for 30 workers but farming isn’t for everyone.
“I think if the Osage Nation could invest in putting job positions here [at Bird Creek Farms] for more people from the community to just put their hands in the ground – you could probably feed this whole nation,” she said. “Each person could probably tend to an acre by themselves and you’re talking about eight hours of work that promotes sobriety, it promotes getting back to your traditional roots, it promotes language, it promotes feeling a sense of self-worth because you’re feeding your people and I think with all this land here there’s room for more people to grow.”
Margaret Sisk, who is an Osage tribal member and the Community Gardens coordinator for Bird Creek Farms, said she is excited to have the opportunity to work with other tribal members as they tend to their garden plots. Bird Creek Farms sits on 270 acres and has three hoop houses for growing herbs and vegetables, an arbor for wood, a monarch butterfly habitat, community gardens and has four employees.
“We welcomed the participants from Braiding the Sacred gathering and we are so glad they’re here to help us prepare for the winter,” Sisk said. “Everybody that came to help, they are growers and they got right to work and did their work quickly. I just want to thank them for being here, for working as hard as they did, it’s fantastic.”
The Braiding the Sacred Coordinating Committee Wishes to Thank:
Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn
Ginger and John Hollis
Norris/Mason Bighorse and Anthony Kemble
Herman "Mogri" Lookout
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and the Osage Nation Executive Branch Staff
Osage Nation Foundation
Blue Stem Ranch LLC
Bird Creek Farms
Communities of Excellence
Addie Hudgins and the Osage Nation Cultural Department
Ryan RedCorn and Ben Brown with Buffalo Nickel Creative
Osage Nation IT Department
Grayhorse Fall Social Dance Committee, Cooks, and Singers