Tionnhéhkwen: Reclaiming Our Foods and the Land
July 1, 2018
Tionnhéhkwen is a Kanien’kéha word that means “our sustenance.” This refers to the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. The Rotinoshonni cultivate numerous varieties of these plants using a sophisticated agricultural approach that recognizes the ways the Three Sisters support each other. As they grow, the tall corn stalks offer the pole beans a place to climb; the beans bring nitrogen into the soil for the other plants to use; and, the squash leaves grow large and broad, keeping the ground moist and preventing weeds from taking over.
Colonization has destroyed and severely damaged Indigenous food systems as part of an ongoing strategy of genocide and forced assimilation. Because of this, many of our traditional foods are very difficult to find and tend to be fairly costly due to their scarcity, especially in urban areas.
At Ojibiikaan, we want to feed the Indigenous people of Toronto with our own foods again. Our traditional foods are sacred, healing and extremely nutritious. They are the best foods for the health and wellbeing of our people, and they stand at the heart of our cultures.
We began to work towards our vision this spring. With the help of many wonderful volunteers, Ojibiikaan planted two Three Sisters mound gardens on traditional Anishnawbe and Onkwehon:we lands in Toronto and Milton, Ontario. The gardens were planted using traditional agricultural knowledge, songs and ceremony shared by local Knowledge Keepers and Tradition Keepers.
At Ashbridge Estate, we built a wooden garden box, which we backfilled with soil. The garden space at Crawford Lake had been unused for several years so it required plenty of weeding and working up the soil.
After the mounds were formed, we flattened out the tops and created a ridge around to hold the water. We planted our corn seeds – two to a hole to ensure at least one would germinate – then watered liberally because corn is a very thirsty plant.
We then had to wait a while, two to three weeks, before planting the beans and squash. The waiting period ensures that the corn has a chance to grow tall enough that it won’t be smothered by the beans, which grow very quickly once planted.
At Ashbridge Estate, we planted four mounds with Mohawk red corn from Six Nations, Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, and Burgess Buttercup squash. We also planted our three of our four sacred medicines: white sage, sweetgrass and tobacco.
At Crawford Lake, we planted 13 mounds (one for each moon of the year) with jade corn, strawberry beans, and Hopi orange winter squash. We also planted Mayan tobacco.
Because we will not be able to tend the gardens all of the time, we knew we would need to protect them from our furry and feathered relatives. Deer love to snack on the tender young corn shoots, and the squirrels and rabbits aren’t far behind for an easy meal. At both locations we built protective structures using deer net.
We are very excited about these projects, and what they symbolize for our Indigenous communities and our reclamation of traditional lands. Ojibiikaan has received offers from many different sources to utilize land in and around Toronto for our traditional gardens. This is only the beginning of what we can do!
We are currently seeking donations of traditional and heirloom variety seeds (food plants or medicines) to build up our seedbank so we can expand our growing activities each year. If you would like to donate or volunteer with us at the locations above or at the Christie Pitts Community Medicine Garden, please reach out and let us know!