image credit: “Food is the Center of Culture”researched by Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest, and designed by Annie Brule. Copyright 2013 Northwest Indian College,


Sixty percent of the food eaten in the world today was developed over thousands of years by the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Traditional foods remain an important part of our cultural identity. Food is a great gift of Mother Earth, and spiritual essence is often associated with gathered, cultivated and hunted/fished foods. A sacred bond exists between humans and foods, from an Indigenous point of view.

For the Haudenosaunee, cultivated foods are a cultural inheritance, originally gifted to humans at the time of Creation. Three primary food crops are corn, beans and squash. They are seen as three sisters who stand over the growing fields.  Gratitude is offered to them as these essential foods ripen each year. Although corn, beans and squash are commonly known as the ‘Three Sisters,” the Onondaga call them Johehko—“They sustain us.”  The Haudenosaunee planted fifteen kinds of corns (blue, red, white and yellow), about 40 kinds of beans (bush and pole beans) and several types of squash and melons.

In Haudenosaunee society, women determine when to plant, they have a major role in cultivating, harvesting, preserving and cooking.  Their responsibility is to organize work groups to share in the bounty that Mother Earth provides, they also hold a significant “economic role.” Feasting on traditional foods is an important part of Haudenosaunee ceremonies.  From a Haudenosaunee point of view, foods maintain mental, physical, and spirit well-being.

There is also a wide and deep knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants among the Haudenosaunee.  This comes from a long association with the local ecology of this region.  Healers are greatly valued for their wisdom and sense of responsibility to human beings and the natural world.

We believe that genetically-modified seeds, and the commercialization of foods, threatens this sacred relationship, when chemicals and preservatives are added to foods, their spiritual essence is disrupted.  Our consumption of such foods also affects our bodies. The next time you sit down to a hearty meal, think of the origins of the foods you are about to eat.  What is Indigenous?  What is healthy? What are you eating?