It’s Indigenous History Month

This year the theme for Indigenous History Month is dedicated to missing children, families left behind and the survivors of Residential Schools. Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs, has invited all Ontarians “to take this opportunity and learn more about the rich diversity of Indigenous Peoples and how their contributions and achievements have shaped our province and country for the better.” Recently, we learned about the tragic discovery of the remains of 392 Indigenous children (and rising) on the sites of former Residential Schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, it seems more important than ever to take the time to learn more.

Here at Westfield we also continue to want to learn more. Our summer student, Bailey Gruber, has been sharing some of the things that she has learnt while enrolled in Indigenous Studies at McMaster University and how these teachings have shaped what she hopes to do in the future. Here, Bailey shares a personal blog about her journey, her interest in The Three Sisters Teaching and what it means.

I was in Grade 10 when I was first introduced to anything related to Indigenous Studies. It was my history teacher who introduced me to the subject of housing on the Six Nations, the conversation I had with him led me to realize that I had a missing chapter within Canadian History. Originally, I took his Indigenous Studies course because it had to do with history, but his teaching opened my eyes to an entirely new world I knew nothing about. Ever since Grade 11, I have had an interest and passion for Indigenous studies, activism and allyship.

Throughout my university experience I always knew that I wanted to have a hands-on job, but I could never narrow it down to just one career. After a course on Traditional Ecological Knowledge, I realized that I was the happiest growing plants. I became really interested in growing sustainable food sources accessible to all.

The more I focused on growing plants, the more enjoyment I found in the activity. Soon enough I was more than happy to attempt to grow any type of plant I came across. I continue to find the growth process very fascinating. I was always curious to know how plants and food grow in the ground. When I took a course on Traditional Ecological Knowledge, one teaching has stuck with me in particular. The teaching of the Three Sisters has always interested me with how each plant relies on the other to grow. The Three Sisters teaching focuses on how corn, beans and squash can grow together without interfering or taking more nutrients away from the others. The teaching itself has many versions and meanings, well beyond growing a successful crop, and for me it has taught me that good relationships help you grow, not hinder you.

Bailey Gruber standing next to the Lockhart Garden where she has started to plant the Three Sisters.

The lessons I learn everyday from Traditional Knowledge is heartwarming and healing. My journey through Indigenous Studies has become much more than just a career for me, it has become a healing aspect of my life. Although it has taken me almost 5 years to figure out where I want to take my career, it has been a very interesting journey getting there.

The Three Sisters – As told by Kitty Lickers and Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kitty Lickers is an Indigenous Professor teaching Indigenous Studies at McMaster University and Robin Wall Kimmerer is an Indigenous scientist, artist and the author of Braiding Sweetgrass.  

This teaching has a way to pull you in and remind you of your own life. The Three Sisters belongs to the Traditional Ecological Knowledge teachings of the Mohawk Peoples. The Three Sisters consist of corn, beans, and squash, all seeded in a dirt mound.

There is a specific way to create your dirt mound, this advice comes from Kitty Lickers. Your mound must be as tall as your hand if you were to kneel on the ground and stick your hand out in front of you. Your first step is to soak the seeds for 1 – 8 hours before they are ready to plant. Then the corn is planted at the very top, towards the middle. You can seed any amount as long as it is an odd number (i.e., 3, 5, 7, 9). You will only want to place the seed as far down as your fingernail so that you can just barely see the seed planted. Once the corn sprouts a few inches you are to plant the beans next, in a circle around your corn, you will want to plant the beans about a knuckle deep. The amount of beans you want to use is 2 less than what you used for your corn. Once the beans start to sprout a little, you will then want to plant your squash halfway down the mound, use enough seeds to get around the entire mound. You will want to place the seed as deep as the space between your fingernail and your knuckle. Once all your seeds are planted, you will want to remember to water from the top and allow the water to spill over the entire mound. Congratulations, you just made your Three Sisters. Please see Kitty Lickers’ video for visual representation as well as hearing her lovely teachings. – As well here is some advice from Kitty on seed saving!

The Three Sisters has been told many different ways, and each way is valid. Ultimately, the Three Sisters purpose is to feed the earth, people, and imagination. Robin Wall Kimmerer details one of the versions of the Three Sisters in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass” and that is the version shared here.

The corn is the oldest sister of the bunch, creating a strong stem in order to support her other sisters. The bean is the second sister, focusing on leaf growth rather than height, once her sister’s stem is strong enough the bean vine can embrace the corn. Finally, the squash is the third sister, the late one, spreading herself over the ground and allowing for her leaves to protect her sisters from nibbling insects.

One of the stories told of how the Three Sisters arrived is that they came during a long winter. As the long winter dragged on and more people were faced with hunger, three beautiful women appeared. The oldest dressed in yellow, the second dressed in green, and the third cloaked in orange. When the three arrived, the people shared what food they had left to feed the sisters generously. As thanks for the people’s generosity, the Three Sisters gave themselves to the people as their true form. They became the bundles of seeds the people needed to have a successful crop in order to never go hungry again.

The Three Sisters teaching represents different meanings to everyone, but for me personally, it represents harmony. Robin Wall Kimmerer and Kitty Lickers have taken their time to explain these teachings in different ways. Each telling of the story is important and will forever hold a place in my heart.


There is more to learn…

There are many ways to learn more about Indigenous culture including through music, art and books. Woodland Cultural Center is a great place to visit to learn more   including about Residential Schools or if you would like to help with the Save the Evidence Campaign.


June 16, 2021 (A tour is offered each third Wednesday of the Month)
Mohawk Institute Residential School Virtual Tour

Cost: $10 Donation to the Save the Evidence Campaign

Save The Evidence Public Virtual Tour

The Woodland Cultural Centre presents a screening of the Mohawk Institute Residential School as a fundraiser for the Save the Evidence fundraising campaign.

Every third Wednesday of the month at 7pm and help raise funds for this important project.

The virtual tour video was created with local production company Thru the Reddoor, and it follows the guide, Lorrie Gallant, as she gives a tour of the former Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School. During the video Lorrie provides the history of the institution over its 140 year history. Viewers will get to see the different rooms in the school, from the girls’ and boys’ dormitories, the cafeteria, laundry room, and other rooms throughout the building, as well as hear interviews from five Survivors of the Mohawk Institute.



Similar Posts