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When the Algonkian people of Southern New England tell their legend of corn, they say that Crow, the mystical bird, flew to them from the Great God Cautantowwits in the Southwest carrying a bean in one ear and a kernel of Indian corn in the other.

The Importance of corn to Native-Americans:



As the first of the green leaves of the Maple trees begin to change to shades of yellow, orange and red, it is the trumpet call that autumn is on its way. The summer is over and it is now the time of the ripening corn for native peoples living in North America. For the Woodland tribes living in New England, it is time for Micheenee Kesos or the time to prepare for the joyful Powwow of the Green Corn in order to thank the Great Spirit and Mother Earth, who control the growing of all things, for the abundant harvest. It is the time to wear their traditional, colorful regalia, knowing that through their dances, singing, and drumming, the Spirits will hear what is in their hearts.

Native Americans enjoyed ceremonies of songs and dances for all the seasonal changes as a simple way of being in harmony with the yearly cycles. Being in harmony with nature and with all living things was as natural to them as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. There was no desire to change the nature around them as they existed as just one more element of nature like the wind, the rivers, the forests, an all living creatures.

Of all the ceremonies, the Green Corn festival was the most important. Corn meant survival and was called "our life supporter" by the Native Americans, and it did support them in many different areas of their lives. After harvesting, it could be prepared in a variety of ways. It could be eaten straight from the picking, roasted over hot coals, boiled with meats, nuts or berries, ground into meal for bread, parched or popped, or stored for a long time without going bad.

Braided cornhusks were used for sleeping mats, and woven into the bark and twigs for insulation on their wigwams to keep at bay the icy draughts of a New England winter. Once the corn kernels were removed and the cob dry and rough, it could be used as a scrubbing instrument. A lifesaver on long journeys was a preparation called Yokeag, yellow corn that had been parched and pounded into a powder making it a food source that was light and easy to carry. An important gift for babies was a small delicately woven basket with six kernels of corn inside that made a rattling noise when shaken.

The preparation for the festivities of 'thanksgiving' for the Green Corn continued for four days. Women cleaned houses, cooked venison and game birds like wild turkey, yams, succotash, potatoes and squash for the feast. In the United States of America these same foods are traditionally eaten on the National Thanksgiving Holiday.

Women made new clothes, and men purged their minds and bodies with powerful herb drinks. Physical games were played like Baggataway or Lacrosse, bow and arrow contests, as well as games of dice called Hubbub that could last for hours. The Native Americans were great gamblers. As the celebrations drew down to the end, old fires were extinguished as a symbol of the old year, and fresh fires were built to welcome the beginning of the New Year.



The Mashantucket-Pequot celebration of Green Corn:

For the Mashantucket-Pequot tribe of the northeastern state of Connecticut the Green Corn Festival has a special significance. A tribe, reduced by history to an impoverished few individuals, reached the determination to save itself from extinction by drawing together many people of all races who could trace their ancestry to the Pequot bloodline.

Remarkably, in just a few years a revitalized tribe found a way to accommodate itself at lightning speed to the rules of this highly materialistic world we all now inhabit. That way is Foxwoods, one of the world's largest and most successful gambling casinos, rising like an Emerald City of Oz from the green forests carpeting the Pequot Reservation in central Connecticut.



Built to surpass the highest standards of Las Vegas and Monaco, this wildly profitable enterprise has become one of the State of Connecticut's highest tax payers and largest employers. Perhaps more admirably, it has provided all the material comforts and cultural opportunities that affluence brings to members of the tribe as well as affording limitless educational possibilities to its children.


Gated community homes of several tribal elders...

For the Mashantucket-Pequots, the Green Corn Festival is an important observance of reaffirmation , both spiritual as well as cultural, that links the Native-American world to its roots and to the natural bounty that unites it and gives it sustenance. On the Pequot Reservation, it is celebrated at first light on the beginning day of a three- to four-day festival in mid-September. At sunrise on that morning a private service for tribal members is held at a ceremonial rock secluded in the forest. The service consists of non-denominational but spiritual words of thanks given by the elders to the gathering in a special and very private moment of tribal unity.

From that moment on, the Green Corn Celebration is shared happily with the public. The activities now center on the tribal powwow, a joyful celebration of pride and hospitality held near the tribal community center in a special circular clearing marked at its center by a ceremonial fire pit configured in the form of a turtle. Ancient myths told that the the Great Spirit created the world by placing earth on the back of a giant turtle. This is why some Native-Americans still refer to North America as "Turtle Island."





The celebration begins with a grand entrance parade of tribal members dressed in full regalia and headed by an honor guard of uniformed members who have served with distinction in America's military services. They carry an American flag, the tribal standards and a black banner symbolizing American prisoners of war and those missing in action as they lead the parade around the great circle, marching in a synchronized cadence with a mesmorizing Indian stomp accompanied by the rhythmic thunder of Pequot drums.

From the conclusion of that heart-stopping moment onward, it's a three- to four-day celebration of dancing contests, food, fun and games, a proper American Indian Powwow.




The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center:



Every visitor who has come to see the Green Corn Powwow or at any time to leave a bit of currency at the slot machines or some green paper at the gambling tables absolutely must visit the Mashantucket Museum and Research Center. One of the finest ethnographic museums of its kind in the world, it tells a compelling story of the Pequots from the time of their ancestors during the Ice Age to the advent of the Pequot Wars in the 17th century at which time the tribe was nearly extinguished by invading Europeans and the diseases they brought with them.



The Caribou Hunt:


Ice Age hunters corner a caribou herd for the meat and hides that sustain them in an Ice Age world

As with everything in the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, this museum has been developed by the best craftsmen designers in the world. One of the most mesmerizing exhibits bring to throbbing life a caribou hunt in which fur clad Ice Age hunters corner and slaughter a terrified herd of caribou for the meat and hides that feed and clothe the primitive tribe. A predatory pack of wolves looks down on the scene as visitors do, waiting for the outcome of the hunt, perhaps to pounce on the remains of the kill.



Everyday Life in the Village:


Crow's eye view of the village...
Bringing home a catch of fish for drying...


Newlyweds build their new house... The family fabricates shell beads for decorative use . At right, father drills individual beads for stringing...

Another immersive exhibit invites visitors to enter a Pequot village at the cusp of the Pequot War years when life was still idyllic for the tribe. Extraordinarily life-like figures of the People show them pursuing all the normal activities of life in a 17th century Pequot village: fishing, hunting, planting the corn, youngsters learning to hunt small game, elders comforting a bereaving widow, a medicine man hovering over her dying husband, and finally to the building of a stockade they hope will shelter the tribe from war. The visitor can walk through the village and even into some of the homes, within touching distance of its inhabitants and eye-to-eye with them, informed of what is going on by self-controlled lecture handsets.

Finally, an extraordinary, light-filled library and research center is a treasure house of literature and research material for scholars as well as students and interested readers, providing them with more information and details about Native American life, history, mythology and culture than, to our knowledge, can be found anywhere else in the world.




But there's more to the Green Corn Festival in Connecticut:

Withn the State of Connecticut, approximately 65 miles to the west of the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, there is another Green Corn Celebration.

In a more modest but equally compelling manner, the Institute of American Indian Studies (IAIS) focuses the story of Native America in archaeological research and through its small but brilliantly presented museum of the best arts and crafts collected from all directions of Native America, East to West and North to South.

Click on Turtle to go there.





Some useful links if you decide to visit the Pequot:

Mashentucket Pequot Museum and Research Center:
http://www.pequotmuseum.org/

Mashentucket Pequote Tribal Nation:
http://www.mashantucket.com/

Foxwoods Resort and Casino:
http://www.mashantucket.com/

Tribal Accommodations / Two Trees Inn:
http://www.foxwoods.com/TTIN.aspx

Accommodations on or near the reservation:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g33831-Mashantucket_Mystic_Country_Connecticut-Hotels.html



PHOTO CREDITS: Rod Lopez-Fabrega,

Mashentuck Pequot Museum & Research Center





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