October 10th, 2016

photo by Farmer Paul

photo by Farmer Paul

written by Farmer Jim

When we teach young students the four things that plants need to grow (sun, soil, water, air), beyond preparing them to answer correctly on their standardized tests, we are also teaching some deeper truths, among which that water is life.

If we are not careful when we teach, other truths are easily lost. In teaching the tradition of planting the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash), it can be easy for students and teachers to understand indigenous Americans primarily as part of our nation’s history, and not part of our present. What’s more, some of the more challenging parts of our nation’s history can be overlooked in favor of more accessible or friendly stories like “the First Thanksgiving.” Grow Pittsburgh feels it is important to counter this by sharing examples of indigenous Americans living today, and that it can be important to explore more critically with our students what has happened in our nation’s history and is happening in our present to create the world we have today.

One great resource comes from the Native Foodways and Media Youth Internship. Their beautiful video, Seeds of Our Ancestors, features “native urban youth as they struggle to overcome trauma caused by colonized and industrial foods and awaken to the healing and nourishment of native foodways from their own traditions and those of others.” Native Foodways Magazine promotes native food sovereignty and contains even more stories from native farmers, gardeners, foragers, and cooks. Their issue #2 focuses on kid-friendly recipes from across the country.

We encourage teachers and parents to include contemporary examples in any discussion or lesson with students on American Indian traditions. This might mean including Cut.com’s One Word: Thanksgiving video in a lesson about the national holiday. Many of the books in Debbie Reese’s column “Resources and Kid Lit on American Indians” provide a contemporary lens for looking at individual tribe’s histories and traditions. Finally, you could discuss current events: in particular, the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. For high school students, Teaching Tolerance provides a great resource for helping students connect with Standing Rock.

At Grow Pittsburgh, we are in the process of revisiting our “Three Sisters” lesson plans. Among the changes, we hope to move away from the term Iroquois in favor of Haudenosaunee, because we believe in the inherent right of a group of people to name themselves. As we make these updates, we are asking ourselves when and how is it most appropriate to share other people’s stories, myths, and traditions.

Check back soon for those updated lesson plans.

In the meantime, we want to acknowledge the contributions native people have made such as developing and originating over 60% of all the food that humans eat today. We encourage you to plant some heirloom varieties, support Native Seeds/SEARCH, and participate in the sacred and radical seed saving tradition.

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