More Winter Projects: Winnowing Teachings

This is another post in my waníyetu wičhóȟ’aŋ, or winter projects series.

A few years back, at the Indigenous Farming Conference, Potawatomi knowledge keeper Kevin Finney taught me how to winnow corn. The conference takes place on White Earth reservation in late winter, when the snow is easily hip-high. Nobody else wanted to go outside in the snow, so Kevin and I went out alone to winnow the corn.

I wasn’t very good at first. I spilled a lot of corn.

I knew Kevin grew a rare variety of corn, and I knew that he had worked hard to grow it. I felt bad about all the corn I had clumsily scattered in the snow, so I apologized to him.

But Kevin told me that was actually supposed to be part of the process.

These kernels we leave behind are offerings — offerings of gratitude to the ancestors and spirits, and offerings to the hungry birds who are trying to get through the cold, long winter.

So I have incorporated this teaching into my own winnowing practice. While I’m not careless when I winnow, I do make sure that at least some of the seeds wind up on the ground. When I spill corn kernels or beans, I don’t pick them up — no matter how few I have, or how rare the seeds are. I leave them behind as offerings.

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