Wagméza kačháŋ / Winnowing corn

Waníyetu wóečhuŋ / winter projects.

When working with traditional foods and plants, especially in a climate like Standing Rock’s where we have at least 5 months of winter, the work we do is highly seasonal.

Some people would assume this means that there is nothing plant-related to do for 5 months out of the year. Ask the people of our grandparents’ generation, though, and they will tell you a different story: winter is not an idle time. It is project time and work time.So, this is the first in a series of posts where I will discuss some of the different waníyetu wóečhuŋ (winter projects) that I am doing.

There are certain types of work that can only be done this time of year (plants that can be harvested or are ready for harvesting at this time), others where the time of year creates perfect circumstances for this work (indoor heat creating very dry condition), and still other tasks that can be done any time, but are better done in this season with a more relaxed pace. 

Corn winnowing falls into the second category I mentioned.  The dry indoor heating in the early part of the winter finally allows corn (which stores well hung up in braids) to dry out enough to be processed for storage or consumption.

A key step here is shelling the kernels from the ears. Of course, this is messy work, and bits of corncob and dust and cornsilk wind up in the basket alongside the good corn kernels. So, before it’s ready to be ground into flour or otherwise processed, the grain needs to be separated from the chaff. So, it’s time for some winnowing!



Final product:

Note: This is all local corn (grown in Fort Yates and Porcupine, ND) by residents of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. While I grew some of it, it’s not all my corn; some friends were kind enough to share their harvest with me. The nature of Fort Yates, where many people are growing different corn varieties in close proximity, leads to some interesting crosses and makes preserving traditional varieties impossible without use of a corn glove (or “corn condom.”) While I wouldn’t save it for seed, it’s good for eating. The corn pictured here includes some (genetically unadulterated) Dakota Black popcorn, as well as some intriguingly-shaped, genetically mixed ears that appear to have both Glass Gem and Mandan Bride parentage.

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