JANE MT. PLEASANT: In this section, I'm going to talk about Iroquois agriculture today to give you a sense of the role that agriculture plays in contemporary Iroquois communities. But in order to do that, we need to go back to the Revolutionary War to kind of bring you up to date with the many changes that took place in Iroquois agriculture between the Revolutionary War and contemporary times.
The Confederacy's defeat in the Revolutionary War led to an enormous loss of land base. In fact, more than 90% of Iroquois land holdings were lost. And there was an incredible disruption in all of the social, political, and economic structures that defined Iroquois communities.
This was a time of great disruption, a great deal of social stress. And it was also a time of enormous changes. And agriculture was one of the areas in which profound changes took place.
The US government and many religious groups worked very hard to change both the social system and the agricultural system of Iroquois people. They basically promoted a standard European model of a patriarchal social system in which men were heads of households and also farmers. They also pushed very hard for a plow-based agriculture. As a result of these activities, there were profound changes in Iroquois agriculture and many of the social conditions. Women were removed from agricultural activities in the 1800s.
By the end of the 19th century, agriculture and farming in Iroquois communities was very similar to that of non-Indians in the rest of New York State. It was a plow-based agriculture. Men were the primary farmers. And the crops included not only corn but also small grains, potatoes, and many fruit crops.
By the 20th century, an animal-based agriculture, primarily dairy farms, had become much more important in the Iroquois communities, very similar to what non-Indian farmers were doing also. Beginning in the 1930s, the importance of agriculture as an economic activity in reservation communities has declined quite steadily. This has reflected the same pattern that we've seen in non-Indian farming communities. Agriculture is simply declining and the number of people who are farming in all parts of New York State.
By 1990, there were less than 10 full-time farmers any place in the Iroquois Confederacy. Iroquois communities began to fear the loss of traditional crop varieties. And they requested that Cornell perhaps could provide some help in maintaining some of those traditional varieties. Despite these losses, however, the importance of agriculture and importance of corn in home gardens, in traditional ceremonies, and connections to community life remained very important.
Iroquois cultural identity is very strongly linked to corn. Our origin and creation stories reinforce the cultural importance that corn plays. The resurgence in agriculture in Iroquois communities mirrors the expressions of Iroquois sovereignty and independence that are cropping up in Iroquois communities and nations across New York and Canada.
Agriculture and corn offer economic opportunities. And they're also ways that connect agriculture with language, with environmental, educational, and other economic activities that are taking place. So corn is embedded in all aspects of contemporary Iroquois life.
In fact, growing food today is seen as both a political and environmental issue for many Native American communities. First, it's important because it determines our relationship to the land. Are we going to be sustainers, or are we going to be exploiters of the land? Decisions about how to grow food in Iroquois communities hinge on that question. It's also very important because it indicates whether we have confidence in our traditional knowledge and systems. Many young people in Iroquois communities are looking at agriculture as a means of expressing that confidence in a traditional knowledge system.
It's also a means of determining our economic independence. Iroquois communities are asking some very hard and straight questions about whether they want to be self supporting or dependent. And finally, it shapes issues about community health. Diabetes and other diet-related diseases are at epidemic levels in many Native American communities. And many people are beginning to recognize that food, the type of foods, that Native Americans are eating is having a direct connection to these health problems. There's a lot of interest in returning to traditional foods like corn, beans, and squash as a means of ensuring community health.
Agriculture is also tightly linked to contemporary Iroquois land claims. Issues about who controls and who owns the land in New York State is something that's in the newspapers almost every day. The current attempts to reclaim control of land by Iroquois communities reflects a decision to assert sovereignty and independence. This is occurring at the same time as efforts to revitalize agriculture. It's linked to language preservation and all sorts of activities around economic development and control of education and health in Iroquois communities.
So Iroquois agriculture is linked to all of these issues, both from a historical viewpoint and in contemporary times. I hope you'll join me for the next section where we talk about the American Indian Agriculture Project and show some of the activities that Cornell's involved in currently.
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First Peoples, First Crops provides a new perspective on the fascinating and vitally important role that Iroquois people (Haudenosaunee) have played in the development of agriculture in northeast North America.
Native American woman, the region's first farmers, developed a dynamic cropping system, the Three Sisters, that had enormous impacts on the Iroquois Confederacy and continues to influence Native and non-Native peoples in the 21st Century.
In this room you will learn about the connections between corn growing and the development of the Iroquois Confederacy as well as the science behind the Three Sisters cropping system. You will learn about the origins of corn and its effects on human communities across the globe. The room also provides information on Cornell's American Indian Program and its current efforts to support Native American agriculture in the northeast.
This video is part 6 of 7 in the First Peoples, First Crops series.