Tag Archives: Ojibwa

Preserving Food for Winter

Klamath Woman Grinding Corn, 1923, by Edward S. Curtis

Even in modern societies with their convenient grocery stores, many people continue to can or dry food from their gardens for winter use. Canning was not an option for native peoples, but they still needed to preserve food for times when game was scarce and/or vegetation was sparse.

There were few universal preservation practices, but drying food was an option available to almost everyone. Drying also had the advantage of making the harvest easier to store and transport: Drying not only concentrated nutrients, but the resulting product also weighed less because so much water was lost in the process. Some foods like beans could dry naturally on the vine, but other foods like corn, berries, and mushrooms were usually gathered first and then dried. Sun-drying was one way  to preserve all types of food.

Over thousands of years, Native Americans cultivated a wild grass called Teosinte, which originally grew in Central America. Over time the small kernels on this grass became larger and were spaced closer together until what we know as maize developed. These first ears were only a few inches long and had about eight short rows of kernels (today’s ears have about 600 kernels). Eventually maize became an important food source for many tribes.

Native Americans grew corn in mounds and harvested great quantities of it, compared to other gathered foodstuffs. They dried maize in the sun on mats, let the maize dry on its stalks, or picked ears and let them dry in the sun. Drying was essential because the loss of moisture made it harder for microorganisms and enzymes that spoil food to grow. Later, the maize would be stored in underground pits lined with grass to prevent mildew and spoilage; some tribes stored enough to get them through two crop-less seasons.

Boy (son of Wolf Chief) Drying Corn, circa 1914, courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota

Ojibwa Farmer Near Cass Lake, Minn. Drying Corn Harvest, circa 1920, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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Native Americans And WWI

Otis W. Leader, Depicted by a French Artist as the Ideal American Soldier

Many people are familiar with the military contributions of Native American Code Talkers during WWII, but don’t know about Native American contributions to the Great War. Over 17,000 males registered for the draft, but many other men volunteered to enter the military. Data on these volunteers are not as  firm, but perhaps half of all Native Americans who enlisted were volunteers. Proportionally, as many or more Native Americans served in the military as other adult American men. Tribal participation rates varied: Oklahoma tribes entered the military at the highest rates, while Navajo and Pueblo men served at the lowest.*

Students from Indian boarding schools like Carlisle volunteered in great numbers, which may have been due both to their familiarity with the military from their school experience as well as a desire to get away from the boarding school environment. Almost without a voice of dissent, whites in authority  over these students–all the way up to commissioner of Indian Affairs, Cato Sells–approved of this massive exodus into the military. They attributed it to the success of the Indian Office’s assimilation policy and patriotism on the part of students. Both these factors may have entered into student decisions to enlist, but a thirst for adventure and an equally powerful hatred of their substandard schools were probably just as contributory. Unfortunately, some of these enthusiastic students were underage, with teachers (as the only adults even able to stand in as pseudo-parents) usually turning a blind eye or actually encouraging enlistment.

*Statistics about Native American participation in the military during WWI are taken from Russel Lawrence Barsh’s “American Indians in the Great War; Ethnohistory 38:3 (Summer, 1991).

Gus Sharlow, Ojibwa WWI Veteran, courtesy Wisconsin Historical Images

Parade Field at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, PA, courtesy U. S. Army

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