By Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff (‘24)
The holiday season brings winter foods into the supermarkets and onto Americans’ tables. Many common Thanksgiving and Christmas foods that have become staples in the Northeast have a history rooted much deeper than the pilgrim’s feast or old fables. American holiday stables like cranberry, corn, and squash have spiritual and historical importance to Native groups- such as the Cherokee, Haudenosaunee, and Oneida nations.
Perhaps, the most prominent holiday food is cranberry sauce, which can often be found in shelf-stable tins or premade in local supermarkets: of course, there is also the homemade version, which consists of water, sugar, orange zest, a cinnamon stick, and two handfuls of cranberries. However, before European voyagers, the classic use of cranberries was much different. Native Americans frequently eat cranberries unsweetened and dried and use the leaves in teas. Occasionally, cranberries are used as a medicinal substance for decreasing blood pressure, improving immune support, and preventing cancerous tumors. Cranberries were never mixed with sugar to create a sauce as the colonizers had done traditionally; in fact, sugar wasn’t available in America until after Britain had arrived.
Beans, corn, and squash form the Three Sisters — a fable that has been passed generation to generation in Indigenous American households. The legend of the Three Sisters describes why they must all be planted together and the strong relationship between them. The Oneida Nation believes that “Very long ago, there were three sisters who lived in a field. The youngest was so small she could not yet walk; she crawled along the ground, dressed in green. The middle sister wore a bright yellow dress and darted back and forth across the field. The eldest sister stood tall and straight, and her body bent with the wind.” The youngest represents the beans, the middle represents the squash, and the eldest represents the corn. These crops are commonly planted together to improve soil health and prevent crop disease from spreading — also called intercropping. Each crop has its own benefit for the others. The squash blocks sunlight along the ground, preventing weeds. The beans filter the soil and put nitrogen back into the earth. The corn provides a stable place for the beans to climb up for support.
When purchasing products that have a long native history, like wild rice, it is important to look to native farmers and ranchers as a way of giving back. Red Lake Nation Foods is a Native American-owned company that makes buying sustainably and reliably easy through their website. By purchasing produce, dried crops, baked goods, and art directly from Native American artisans and farmers, people ensure that 100% of profits go to them, enabling native culture to continue on and native land to continue thriving without government intervention.