Three Sisters Dedication and Seed Sovereignty Lecture

On Wednesday, April 28, guests were greeted at the door of the Persson Hall auditorium with an assortment of homemade foods: pumpkin bread, “mini Indian tacos,” corn muffins, squash, rice, cranberries and strawberry maple water provided by the guest speakers. Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies and Director of the Environmental Studies Program Christopher Henke’s Community-based Study of Environmental Issues research course, ENST 390, hosted a lecture to teach dedication and seed sovereignty in honor of the debut of the Three Sisters Garden in the remodeled Community Garden. The presentation centered on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is comprised of six Indigenous nations including the Oneida, on whose ancestral land Colgate stands. Two Haudenosaunee members spoke: Chelsea Jocko and Angela Ferguson. Other speakers were the Community Garden Manager Beth Roy and the four ENST 390 student speakers who organized the event: Owen Gordon, Victoria Prouty, Carolina Chavez and Charlotte Carey. 

Junior Owen Gordon introduced the event. He explained the goal of their class was to “foster relationships between the community garden and local indigenous groups [by] acknowledging the Oneida land that the garden is on and welcoming local Haudenosaunee seeds back to the land in the form of a traditional Three Sisters Garden.”

Chelsea Jocko, a representative from the Oneida Nation, was the first main speaker. She began with a statement in Onyota’a:ka (Oneida) and then gave an English translation. Her first sentence translated to, “I’m happy all of you arrived here with great peace today.” She went on to speak about the importance of teamwork, unity and community. She praised many different aspects of nature for their benefits: birds for their song, the sun for its light, the “grandmother moon” for how it guides in the night and “the creator for what he prepared for us today.” She ended almost every sentence with the phrase, “That’s how our minds will be.”

The second speaker and Colgate Community Garden Manager, Beth Roy, detailed the long and arduous journey since the class of 2010 raised the money to kickstart the garden to where it is now. She explained how the last three garden attempts failed mainly due to severe climate and impractical garden allotments. They now have a permanent patch in the Community Garden.

The final guest speaker, Angela Ferguson, an Onondaga Nation Traditional Corn Grower, introduced herself with her Onondaga name: “that she puts feet in water first.” Central to her presentation was the Two Row Wampum Haudenosaunee treaty, a treaty that the Haudenosaunee forged with the Dutch in 1619 to establish an amicable relationship. She emphasized how the principles set by the Two Row Wampum belt should serve as a simple creed to guide our lives. She explained the commitment of this treaty in three rules: 1) “Friendship for each other and mutual respect,” 2) “Peace: your words, thoughts, and actions are peaceful,” and 3) “It will last forever … The things that I tell you today become your obligation when you come from the university to tell your families, children, and grandchildren.” 

She elaborated that the principles of the treaty are fundamental to a fulfilling life and that food is a core component: “Food is more important than medicine. It’s not just our three sisters; all food drives that respect.” She also underscored the garden as a “powerful” space of community and stewardship that heals and is “spiritually rejuvenating.” She finished with the endnote: “Whatever you choose as their path in life, I want you to experience planting just once … It’s all about following this treaty and simply helping each other.” She encourages all to support the garden.

First-year Rachel Plasky shared that she plans to “intern at the community garden this summer for about ten weeks and help care for the Three Sisters Garden.” She added, “The first time I really engaged with indigenous cultures was when I read [the summer reading], “Braiding Sweetgrass,” and it really resonated with me and is one of the reasons I’m at this event … Hearing Angela’s talk was amazing … she just has so much knowledge about this topic, and hearing it all from her unique perspective, as an Onondaga Traditional Corn Grower, was really exciting.”

The lecture taught lots about the history and tradition of the Native Americans who used Colgate land before us and used their wisdom to advise those at the Community Garden how to create an equitable future through stewardship. 

The Three Sisters Garden has a permanent home in the Community Garden on the Brown House property, a blue house between the Townhouses and the Good Nature Brewery. Please visit and support the community garden, and have a delicious summer!