The Story Of Grandmother Corn
I was angry. "Why," I asked the
Grandmothers, "did you deny your heritage… our heritage?
How could you adopt the ways of the white man, the conqueror, and embrace the ways of the people who disrespect the Earth
Mother? How could you conceal from the future generation their own identity and conceal even from your children that you and
they were Cherokee? How could you do these things? How could you?" I felt betrayed by my own ancestors.
The smile was gentle and wise, but the voice
was firm. It reverberated with strength. Power. "Standing Feather, you have much to learn. You will study the medicine of
the Corm Mother and you will understand. We chose our path out of knowledge… the true and lasting knowledge of who and
what we are as a people, the teachings of the Great Mystery and the Earth Mother, and the wisdom of the Selu. Do not be quick
to judge. You do know the whole truth, do not understand our purposes."
I trembled, but the fire still burned. I had
to know, "How could?" I saw missed opportunities… traditions forgotten, precious wisdom lost, and a world badly in need
of knowledge that was no more, would never be again. Tears stung my eyes.
Laughter, and gentle chiding, "Standing Feather,
you are as a child. Your tears are for nothing, the foolish whining of an infant who only considers herself and lacks the
wisdom required for understanding. Stop this nonsense and be about your true mission. You walk you path for a purpose. Do
not waste yours tears. Our heritage is alive and well. It grows stronger with each sun. Help our people, do not cry for them.
Respect our ways, do not see them as diminished or lost. Honor our wisdom. Use your heritage with pride. Everything we had…
everything you think we denied… all you believe is lost… is whole and strong, and living in your world. It waits
for you now. You only have to claim it."
I saw no way this could be. So much was gone,
so much forgotten, so much swept away because it was denied. Lost. Surely they didn’t understand.
"But Grandmother, for so many years, I did
not know of my heritage. I didn’t hear the stories, didn’t learn of the healing, didn’t know the beauty
of the Great Mystery. I admired our people from a distance, not knowing I was one of them. My heart broke for their sorrow
and for what was lost…"
"Have you learned nothing? You felt a kinship
with the people you watched from a distance, even without understanding it. You carry our ways and our wisdom within you.
They are as complete as your Spirit and as valuable as your heart, yet you cry for them. You require waiting for you. It has
always been there."
"But you said you were Black Dutch, born in
a foreign land. You denied… "The most elementary instruction. What hangs on the wall in your home? What rests on the
table, on the hearth? What sits beside the door?"
"Grandmother, I don’t understand."
"There are pictures of my children and grandchildren,
a chain carved from a single length of cedar, ears of dried Indian corn, a painting of the hills and trees in winter, a staff
with prayer ties, a raw crystal from the Earth, a length of finger-woven leather strips, a quilt and a rug made by some of
you, a vase of pheasant feathers, a wood carving of Chief Dragging Canoe, a hand-woven basket…"
"We chose our path deliberately. Times were
hard. Our people, our ways, were in danger of annihilation. We were hunted like deer. There was no place we could go that
was safe. Our land and our possessions were stripped from us. Homes burned, people killed. Many died. Our children were taken
away to boarding schools and forbidden to speak our language. Sometimes we never saw them again. There were prohibitions against
our ceremonies. Our very beliefs were outlawed. The Spirit of our people was dying. We had to find a way to preserve these
There was a pause and I felt the eyes upon
me, burning through my soul.
"We turned for help to Grandmother Corn, and
she taught us how to survive. We studied her teachings. We practiced her ways. One tiny kernel of corn carries everything
that is needed to nourish our people physically and Spiritually for all time, with enough left over to provide the same for
an entire world. Within that one kernel, one seed, there is food, fuel, material to build homes, ceremonies, teaching, nourishment
for the Spirit, wisdom… the greater part of what is needed for a people to survive. The way of the seed is the way of
corn, the single seed, carries the heart and the Spirit of the mother. When it is planted in the sweet Earth, it rests, then
when the time is right, it comes forth. It grows. First the sprout, then the blade, then the cornstalk and the ears. It is
the Mother reborn, with her heart and Spirit intact. We knew then that we must do as Grandmother Corn. We took all that was
important to us and drew it deep within our Spirit. It could not be seen by the outside world, just as the Spirit of Grandmother
Corn is not apparent in the seed. What appears to be is not always what is. We kept the seeds hidden and protected, knowing
that when the time was right they would come forth and produce fruit. We trusted the ways of the Creator, the Earth Mother,
and Grandmother Corn. Our seed, our Spirit, would live dormant but intact in the future generations. When conditions were
right, our people’s ways would live again. Nothing would be lost. It was the only way we could survive.
The white man didn’t understand the
way of the seed. He didn’t know how the Earth Mother can encourage the seed to bring forth the mature plant and the
ears of corn. He believed that he could force us to speak his language, wear his clothes, follow his beliefs, and our ways
would die. The white man would devour our people, make then part of himself, and we would be no more. We allowed him to believe
that, and his own belief defeated his purpose. We wore the clothes, spoke the language, and appeared to follow his beliefs.
We raised our children in his ways, not telling them of their heritage. But was had placed our Spirit and all that was important
to us in our seed. Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren carried it, unknown but safe. The white man could not
take it from us. Nothing could destroy it. We looked into the swirling mists of the future and we saw our Nation rise again
from the many seeds we had planted. We saw the ceremonies and the traditions once again. We heard the stories, found the wisdom
passed from generation to generation. We saw our baskets woven by other hands, our clothing covering other bodies, our songs
sung by other voices. But they were us and we are them. We lived again, and all that was important to us flourished. It is
the way of the corn.
The white man is not the conqueror. He never
was. He was defeated long ago, participated in his own defeat. The white man has always lived in the outside world, always
cherished his material things… money, houses, status. That is why his ways can’t endure. Those things never mattered
to us. We long ago learned the lesson of the corn. We carry with us what is important: Our Spirit. And our Spirit will never
die, never be diminished. Our blood rushes through your body, our heart beats in your chest, and our thoughts fill your mind.
You are our seed. You are Cherokee. Whatever else you are or may be, you are still of our people. You carry the Spirit and
the hope of our Nation. Honor us. Allow us to live again through you. Bring forth our traditions, our stories and ceremonies,
our knowledge and beliefs and wisdom. They will serve you well. Never forget the teaching of Grandmother Corn. And know that
through the centuries, when men and women travel far from Mother Earth, when they do things that you can’t even dream
of now, they… your children, your grandchildren… will carry with them the seed we planted. And the seed of Grandmother
Corn. They will grow corn in many places. And the Cherokee Nation will flourish, will survive to be reborn again and again
in the hearts and minds, the Spirits, of it’s children."
The Grandmothers have given this story to
Standing Feather. I would like to thank her for sharing it with us. Bird Clan Mother Of The Southern Cherokee Nation, Sharron
I also would like to thank her for this powerful
story. Many of our people have asked these questions and have felt the same way. Jutla Atli
Gifted with permission of Jutla Atli for Our