FOOD AND MEDICINE
The animals, fish and birds provide meat, fur, skins, feathers, bones, sinew, teeth, and oils. They are part of the web of life and so help to maintain balance in the natural world. The food plants and berries provide the nutrition that people need to stay healthy. The Haudenosaunee refer to the corn, beans and squash as The Three Sisters. They are important to the Haudenosaunee diet. They also provide a lesson in cooperation. The Three Sisters can be planted separately, but when they are planted together, they help each other. That is a reminder to the humans that they can accomplish more if they work together rather than alone.
The medicine plants are those plants that help the people when they are ill. There is a Haudenosaunee story that tells how the Bear Clan learned how to locate, identify and use the medicine plants to cure certain illnesses. A gift should be left for the plants, thanks should be expressed and the person who gathers them should be thinking good thoughts. It is also said that the gatherer should explain to the medicine plants how and why they are being used. All of these traditions help the people remember not to take the gifts they have been given for granted and not to waste anything.
Once, Haudenosaunee gathered all food and medicines from the forests, lakes, and rivers around them. Each season offered something different. Maple sugar was produced in the late winter. Fish, wild onions, skunk cabbage, and strawberries were plentiful in the spring. Autumn provided nuts and deer meat that could be dried and stored. For thousands of years their vast knowledge of the gifts of the natural world allowed the Haudenosaunee to survive before learning to cultivate corn, beans, squash and other plants.
Today’s Haudenosaunee usually purchase food from grocery stores or eat at restaurants. Those who have enough land may plant a garden and grow their own corn, beans, squash, tomatoes and potatoes, as well as sacred tobacco for ceremonies.
Even though most food today comes from the store, foods like strawberries, corn, and maple syrup are still prepared in special ways for ceremonies and community gatherings. These foods are as important to modern Haudenosaunee as they were to their ancestors.
In the past, medicine too came from plant sources. Treatments for wounds, sore throat, infection, and other sicknesses were produced and prescribed by people in the community who had very special knowledge.
Modern Haudenosaunee have a wider variety of choices. Most reservations have clinics where community members go to be examined by a doctor, have x-rays taken or get a drug store prescription. Others go to hospitals on or off the reservation. Even so, some Haudenosaunee still respectfully gather plants and depend on traditional methods. Some people use both. New ways are not always better. Many of the elders have knowledge about healing that modern science has not yet discovered!
The deer is the leader of all of the animals. He is looked upon as a peaceful animal. Deer antlers are attached to the sides of a chief’s Kastoweh (hat) as a symbol of peace and leadership. The deer provides food, furs & skins for clothing & blankets, bones for tools & sinew for making rope. The Deer Clan is one of the clans of the Haudenosaunee.
The fish are a source of food. The fish help to clean the water. The fish are part of the web of life and so are important in making sure that life as we know it can continue.
The bear is important to the Haudenosaunee because it provides meat for food, furs and skins for making clothing and blankets, bones for making tools, sinew for making rope, and the teeth can be used in making jewelry. Bear fat and bear grease can be used to repel insects, for use in cosmetics and hair products, as an ingredient in making paints or dyes and for use in cooking. The Bear Clan is one of the clans of the Haudenosaunee.
The rabbit is important to the Haudenosaunee because it provides meat for food. Rabbit skin is used for making clothing. Many skins can be sewn together to make blankets.
Eagle is the leader of all the birds. He is strong and has great endurance. He has keen eyesight and so can fly high into the sky and still see much of what happens on Mother Earth. Eagle was placed on top of the Great Tree of Peace by the Peacemaker to act as guardian. Eagle warns the Haudenosaunee of approaching dangers or threats to their peace. Eagle feathers can be used in ceremonies, for decoration or for making a Gustoweh (headdress). Non-Natives may not legally possess eagle feathers.
The turkey is important to the Haudenosaunee because it provides meat for food. The feathers can be used for decoration or for making a Gustoweh (headdress).
The goose is important to the Haudenosaunee because it provides meat for food and the feathers can be used for decoration or for making a Gustoweh (headdress). In some versions of the Creation Story, geese lower Skywoman to Turtle Island.
The leader of the trees is the Sugar Maple because it is the first tree to wake up in the Spring. The Sugar Maple sap is called Sweet Water. The Sweet Water can be drunk as a medicine or cooked down to make maple syrup or maple candy. The sweetness is a reminder to the people of the sweetness of the gift of life.
The White Pine is a symbol of peace & unification. The needles keep their green color all year which is a symbol for constant watchfulness & alertness. The needles grow in bundles of 5, a reminder of the original 5 Nations - Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga & Seneca. The Peacemaker uprooted a White Pine & asked the people to throw their weapons of war into the hole. The tree is referred to as The Great Tree of Peace - with 4 white roots - a symbolic invitation to all peoples to accept peace.
The strawberry is the leader of the berries because it is the first to ripen. The strawberry is food, but it is also a medicine. The strawberry is also known as the Big Medicine. In the Thanksgiving Address it is specially thanked as a hanging fruit, growing among the grasses, just above the earth. It represents beginnings -- the beginning of warm weather and a productive agricultural season. Strawberries are said to grow along the road to the Sky World which is reached by the Milky Way.
The ANIMALS provide meat to be used as food. They provide furs and skins to be used for making and decorating clothing and blankets. Bones from animals are used to make tools. The animals are part of the same web of life as the human beings and so are referred to as brothers. The animals do what they are supposed to do and so they are a reminder to the people that they should also do what they are supposed to do. The animals are part of the web of life and so are important in making sure that life as we know it can continue. The animals and the leader of the animals, the deer, are greeted and thanked each day by the Haudenosaunee.
The BIRDS provide meat for food and feathers for decorating clothing. The birds share their beautiful colors and lovely songs so that the people will not feel lonely. The birds are part of the web of life and so are important in making sure that life as we know it can continue. The leader of the birds is the eagle. The eagle and all of the birds are greeted and thanked each day by the Haudenosaunee.
The TREES provide the materials needed for building shelters and for making fire. They give fruits and nuts. They are home to many creatures. Their roots keep the soil from being washed away. They take in carbon dioxide and give oxygen. They clean the air. They are beautiful to look at and give us a cool, shady place to sit on a hot, sunny day. The trees are greeted and thanked each day by the Haudenosaunee.
The GRASSES provide a home and food for many creatures. The grasses hold onto the soil so it isn’t washed away by the rain. The grasses give the people a soft place to sit and relax. The grasses are part of the web of life and so are important in making sure that life as we know it can continue. The grasses are greeted and thanked each day by the Haudenosaunee.