Seeking the corn mother: Transnational indigenous organizing and food sovereignty in Native North American literature

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


The story of corn has been told in many literary works by Native North American writers. In Pushing the Bear, for example, Diane Glancy follows the Cherokee along the Trail of Tears, from the moment they are forcibly torn from their gardens in the 1830s, through the wrenching days of hunger they experience as they are driven to Oklahoma, mourning the loss of loved ones and lamenting the loss of their seed corn. When main character Maritole is removed from her farm by American soldiers, she remembers the place she was born and thinks, “The cornstalks were our grandmothers … Their voices were the long tassels reading the air. Our spirits clung to them. Our roots entwined.” In Fight Back, Acoma Pueblo writer Simon Ortiz explains the fierce bond between indigenous North American peoples and “Grandmother Corn.” Corn, writes Ortiz, cannot “be regarded as anything less than a sacred and holy and respected product of the creative forces of life, land, and the people’s responsibilities and relationships to each other.” The earth regenerates the human body when people eat corn and, when they die, humans return to the earth and the cycle continues. Other Native North American writers, however, point to the experiences of tribal groups whose relationships with the corn mother were interrupted or lost and who, as a consequence, disappeared as a culture and as a people. In Gardens in the Dunes, Laguna Pueblo novelist Leslie Marmon Silko tells the story of Sister Salt and Indigo, indigenous sisters living at the borders between Arizona and California at the turn of the nineteenth century. Throughout the novel, Indigo makes connections between the foodways of her own tribe and those of other tribal peoples who value “Mother Corn.” Silko names the sisters’ tribe the “Sand Lizards” and details how they have been hunted, rounded up, moved to reservations or shipped off to boarding schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIndigenous Rights in the Age of the UN Declaration
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139136723
ISBN (Print)9781107022447
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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