Two years ago, I was at a learning event in Ohsweken, at the Six Nations of the Grand River Nation. For one of the workshops, I chose to learn a bit about the famous three sisters: corn, beans and squash. Haudenosaunee people have planted these three together for years, with a rather clever methodology. The bean uses the corn for climbing, and the squash, with its prickly leaves, serves as a deterrent for creatures looking for a bit to eat. At the workshop, I received sister seeds. Last year I attempted a three sisters garden. Alas, the creatures in our backyard were not dissuaded by the squash, and so I had to restart my experiment with some temporary garden fencing. The squash blossomed, but no fruit resulted. I did, however, manage to score one ear of blue corn, and one pod of three peas, which served for seed this year.
This year, I started my plants a bit earlier, with some large bowls giving them a bit of a greenhouse, but this week they outgrew their temporary homes. So, yesterday I made a trip to a department store only now opened after months of curbside pickup. I donned the mask my wife made me and ventured in, to search out some screening material and dowels. This was my first experience of wearing a mask. My only other public shopping adventures have been to stock up on food and drink, where strict limits on numbers made me feel safe. For some reason, I thought it wise to mask up. About three quarters of the shoppers were masked, and most of the employees were not. I looked up at a friendly looking employee who smiled and me, and I smiled in response, and stopped in my tracks mindful that my smile was not known to her. Hopefully my eyes communicated my appreciation.
I made my way home and spent the rest of the afternoon making a fence for my little three sisters garden. As I worked on the garden, I thought about another event I visited at Ohsweken: Walking with our Sisters. This was an event commemorating, remembering and mourning Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in service of justice. The installation involved “vamps,” the decorated tops of moccasins. Each pair of vamps represented a stolen sister. It was an incredibly powerful event, with many tears at the realization that many of these deaths were never investigated, or poorly investigated. Elders were present to help those in need of ceremony at the sight of these vamps. Each of these stolen sisters proclaims the reality of systemic racism in a land where some lives are deemed worth more than others.
My three sisters garden reminds me of this truth, and my little fence speaks to me of our need to protect our sisters, the land and all of life. If only protecting our sisters were only so simple as enduring the little discomfort of wearing a mask and acquiring some material to shield them from harm. But the changes that are needed in our world are systemic and seismic in nature, by a complete and utter turning around and away from the ways of evil, by what some call repentance – both individually and corporately.