The animals, fish and birds provide meat, fur, skins, feathers, bones, sinew, teeth, and oils. They are part of the web of life and so help to maintain balance in the natural world. The food plants and berries provide the nutrition that people need to stay healthy.

The “Three Sisters”
The Iroquois refer to the corn, beans and squash as The Three Sisters. They are important to the Iroquois diet. They also provide a lesson in cooperation. The Three Sisters can be planted separately, but when they are planted together, they help each other. That is a reminder to the humans that they can accomplish more if they work together rather than alone.

The medicine plants are those plants that help the people when they are ill. There is an Iroquois story that tells how the Bear Clan learned how to locate, identify and use the medicine plants to cure certain illnesses. A gift should be left for the plants, thanks should be expressed and the person who gathers them should be thinking good thoughts. It is also said that the gatherer should explain to the medicine plants how and why they are being used. All of these traditions help the people remember not to take the gifts they have been given for granted and not to waste anything. Once, Iroquois gathered all food and medicines from the forests, lakes, and rivers around them.  Each season offered something different.  Maple sugar was produced in the late winter.  Fish, wild onions, skunk cabbage, and strawberries were plentiful in the spring. Autumn provided nuts and deer meat that could be dried and stored. For thousands of years their vast knowledge of the gifts of the natural world allowed the Iroquois to survive before learning to cultivate corn, beans, squash and other plants.

Today’s Iroquois usually purchase food from grocery stores or eat at restaurants.  Those who have enough land may plant a garden and grow their own corn, beans, squash, tomatoes and potatoes, as well as sacred tobacco for ceremonies.

Even though most food today comes from the store, foods like strawberries, corn, and maple syrup are still prepared in special ways for ceremonies and community gatherings.  These foods are as important to modern Iroquois as they were to their ancestors.

In the past, medicine too came from plant sources.  Treatments for wounds, sore throat, infection, and other sicknesses were produced and prescribed by people in the community who had very special knowledge.

Modern Iroquois have a wider variety of choices.  Most reservations have clinics where community members go to be examined by a doctor, have x-rays taken or get a drug store prescription.  Others go to hospitals on or off  the reservation.  Even so, some Iroquois still respectfully gather plants and depend on traditional methods.  Some people use both.  New ways are not always better.  Many of the elders have knowledge about healing that modern science has not yet discovered!



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