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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Honoring Corn Mother
by Doreen Yellowbird

There is one Supreme Being of power and wisdom, the Chief above, Nishanu Natchitak. He rules the world. But he made Mother Corn intermediary with human beings on earth.


At the time of the beginning, there were no living creatures of any kind in the light of the sun on the lap of mother earth. All were still covered beneath her bosom. All creatures were striving and doing their best, each in its own way, but they all met difficulties and obstacles, which were hard to overcome.

Different kinds of creatures tried to make their way through to the surface of the earth into the light and air. One of the first animals which tried was the beaver. Then the shrew bore through the ground to the surface and came into the light. But he was blinded by the brightness of the sun. He drew back from the dazzling light, and so to the present time, when he does come out on the surface, he does so only at night. When the first opening thus was made by the shrew people, then all other people, that is to say living creatures of all kinds, began to come forth from the opening of the earth.

Then a voice was heard which told the people to travel toward the west, and promised that if they did, they would find a suitable place to dwell.

"Go with confidence," the voice said. "Do not turn back. If you turn back, you will suffer."

Black Bear

So the living things which came forth from the surface of the earth began to move, and they traveled forward in accordance with the voice. In their journeying, they met many difficulties, many things which at first filled them with terror. But they were continually exhorted and encouraged by the mysterious voice. And so they kept on and made progress, overcoming one obstacle after another, never turning back.

As they traveled, they came to a great water. To overcome this difficulty, their powers must be exerted. There seemed to be no way to cross. Then came a mysterious bird, which made its way through the water. But before all had overcome the difficulty, the waters closed on part of them. And so we still have the people of the water, such as the fishes of all kinds, and her creatures, which live in the water.

They came to an impassable cliff. The mysterious bird, which had helped them before now came again. It flew against the bank and broke out a way for the passage. After a time, they came to a great, dense forest which seemed impenetrable. Here again, as before, they prayed and called upon the elements of the world, and tried their best to put open a way to pass through this great forest. Screech owl found a way and the other people followed. But some, as in previous cases, did not win through. Those remained in the woods and still live there. These people are the deer, the moose, the bear, the porcupines, the forest-dwelling kinds, large and small.

Grizzly Bear

At the early time, the people were unorganized. They had no chief to guide them. They only had the guidance of the mysterious voice, which counseled and encouraged them. And Nishanu Natchitak blessed the people of the human race and showed them still greater favor.

To those who sought earnestly in prayer and fasting to know his will, he gave them a sacred bundle and a pipe to be used in prayer, and taught them religion. And as our ancestors were instructed to do so long ago, so do we even today. And the Chief above gave the people gifts of roots of all kinds of plants from mother earth, that these should be medicines for healing of wounds and cure of sickness.

And the Chief above blessed all living creatures on the earth. He blessed all the plants, and animals. Plants should not be abused, should be treated with respect. It was taught that the pipe should be used to offer smoke to all things, which the chief above had blessed.

As the people traveled onward, guided and encouraged by the mysterious voice, they at least found themselves in a good land. There were streams and woods and open grasslands. There were good fruit in abundance, and many animals and numerous birds.

Screech Owl

And now this good earth appeared to them a beautiful woman, a stranger. She came into their midst and greeted them with smiles. And even while she was still far off, the people could smell her a fragrance, like one of holy sweet-grass, and then like the odor of the holy cedar tree, and then like the fragrance which come from a fresh green meadow, then the fragrance of the wild prairie wild rose, and of many other fragrant wild plants of prairie and woodland, and of the delightful fragrance that come from a corn-field.

The people invited her to enter the lodge, and she sat down and rest in the place reserved for honored guests. After she had rested, she spoke to the people who were assembled there. She said: "Why do you seem so fearful of me, and so strange towards me? You have seen me before."

Then a wise man said: "I believe you are the one whose voice we have heard, the voice that has directed us on our way."

"Corn Dawn Maiden" by Marti Fenton

She replied "Yes, it is my voice which you have heard. And I have come to give you good teachings from my father, who is also your father, the chief above. He loves you and cares for you. And that is why I am sent.

And the lovely visitor, whom now they knew as Mother Corn, taught them with words of wisdom of the high and deep things in life, of human beings in their duties to the Chief above and all the mysterious beings who are aides and assistants to the Chief above. She also taught the people the right ways of living with respect to one another and all living things in the world.

She also gave the people instructions in useful arts. She taught them how to build a house to keep them comfortable and protect them from the weather. They were taught that the house should be a home for the family, as the world is the home for the human race. The structure of the dwelling, and also of the holy lodge, should be symbolic of the structure of the world. As the world extends about us like a great circle, so should the house be circular in the ground plan.

Mother Corn has taught us that smoke offerings should always be made toward the four quarters on all occasions, and at feasts, before we partake offering of food should be made in order that our food may be blessed to us, and that we may be blessed in eating. We shall remember and be thankful to all powers and elements of the world about us and to the Chief above, who ordains all things in wisdom for good, and to mother earth, in the shelter of whose bosom we rest, and from whose breast we are fed.

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Doreen Yellow Bird, who is Sahnish, or Arikira, was a long time Grand Forks Herald reporter and columnist and now works for the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) Nation in Western North Dakota (New Town). She is currently writing and researching a historical narrative of the Sahnish people, and concurrently writing a fiction based on the legends of her tribe.

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