Neb. - In ancient days, Pawnee women grew the corn for their tribe.
the 21st century, women have taken the lead in preserving Pawnee
corn for the future.
growing Pawnee corn while living in Colorado, Deb EchoHawk and her
older cousin Alice EchoHawk organized a seed blessing ceremony after
Deb moved to Oklahoma in 1997.
the old days, tribal priests held a ceremony to bless the corn before
the women went out to plant, Deb EchoHawk said.
giving thanks and seeking spiritual guidance, it was a means of
ensuring that each family had sufficient seeds. It also emphasized
that these kernels were to go into the ground, not the stew pot.
began working with Ronnie O'Brien, a farmer's daughter who wanted
to develop an educational program about Pawnee corn in her job as
marketing and education director for the Great Platte River Road
organized 10 gardeners who now grow nine varieties of corn in 14
failing to get a blue speckled corn to germinate, the tribe turned
to plant scientist Tom Hoegemeyer, co-owner of Hoegemeyer Hybrids
in Hooper, Neb., and an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
having no luck in reviving the corn, Hoegemeyer now is doing some
DNA sleuthing in hopes of finding a nearly identical variety.
this stage it's more important to save the remaining blue speckled
corn for cultural purposes than to destroy more kernels in a vain
attempt to get them to germinate, he said.
seed is dead, then resurrection is very difficult," he said.
said Native Americans women must be given much credit for transforming
corn from a wild grass known as teosinte into today's cereal grain.
caused more change and more improvement in cultivated corn than
the rest of us working in the last 500 years have done," he
this month, O'Brien planted 92 hills, each containing five kernels
of white flour corn, in a plot near the Kearney Arch.
said she expects the white flour corn to reach its full height of
5 feet before a June 20 exhibition powwow to celebrate the Pawnees'
renewed presence in Nebraska. The height of other varieties ranges
from 2 feet to 11 feet.
times, it's been downright scary to be responsible for the corn,
first year of the project, the eagle corn rotted in the ground during
a cool wet spring. The next year, the Pawnee sent 25 eagle corn
kernels, warning that it was the last that could be spared.
was our last chance to show our kids what eagle corn looked like,"
with a biologist, she was able to get 23 of the seeds to germinate
and eventually delivered 17 ears - 2,500 kernels - to the tribe.
there's not enough corn that it can be eaten.
still in the seed bank stage, where everything we grow we return
back for seed," EchoHawk said. "But it's a nice feeling
to know we're getting to the point, one of these days, our chief
is going to say, 'Let's have some of this corn for a feast.'"
More: Pawnee Heritage:
Tribe's Corn Grows In 'Original Homeland'