Green Corn Dance places emphasis on work and dedication for food

By Green Corn Dance

The Ho-Chunk people, often revered for their immense gift of adaptation and survival, draws this strength from their pre-colonial way of life gathering foods and medicines, harvesting crops, tobacco, fishing, and hunting wild game. Everything needed to survive is there for us but it’s not going to be sitting in an isle of a grocery store or in a drive through. Those who have grown food or medicine or harvested game and prepared these items for storage or use knows there’s a lot of work, time, and thought that goes into it.
Harvest time is as it always has been, a busy and jovial period for the Ho-Chunk people. We are thinking ahead of what we will need through cold season, what we will need for the ceremonies ahead, and what we may need to help other families who may be without. When the work was done, Green Corns may have been done. Many songs are gone now but once told small stories, highlighted moments of the fall season, or were just spirited and catchy energizing the singers, dancers, and those around.
Given the exciting nature of this practice, the Green Corn Dance coursed its way to a greater audience featured at the famed Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial where the Ho-Chunk people, adorned in the best regalia, performed smaller segments of the dance to the awe and wonderment of the crowd. This faded with the iconic era defined by the Stand Rock artists and performers but lived on in the autumn pow-wow gatherings.
For many of the Ho-Chunk people, the pow-wow is the only place to see Green Corn Dance making our very own Labor Day gathering in Black River Falls an event worthy of great anticipation. The drum, or drums, start a series of familiar “standing songs” calling the people to the center arena letting them know it’s time to get ready. For the newcomers, it’s exciting and the energy around the circle can’t be ignored. For the veteran dancers, they know they’re in for a workout and once the dance songs begin, they will be on the move for the duration.
“Now we dance,” a loose translation of the pivotal song begins a series of songs that could last hours through the night. An elder explained that the longer you danced, the harder you danced and the final songs led by a shuffle and a stout beat pushed even the fittest to exhaustion. The end is a bittersweet rally with laughter and excitement as the beat of the drum pushed dancers into reverse then forward back and forth until finally, the syncopated and powerful beat of the drum and warhoops meant the end had been met.
On Friday, Oct. 13, the Ho-Chunk people came together to remind each other that Green Corn is not just a dance. It’s about our survival. It’s not what we grew, gathered, or hunted, it’s about the work, time, love, thoughts, and sacrifice that went into our food sources. For this reason, tribal members came together in numbers to help set up the grounds behind the Tribal Office Building. Corn was buried the day prior in a fire pit and excavated to sample the maa wooha and its smoky sweet goodness was something to behold.
As well, an entire “how-to” for corn/squash drying took place, corn husk doll making demos and those with the right to do so made their own. Wisdom from a knowledgeable herbalist was on site and those who wished to see how to make hominy style corn was a part of the day as well. One thing that was not in short supply was food. A harvest-theme potluck preceded the dancing and a seemingly endless line of crock pots and Nescos came in filled with colorful fall food. A deer, several squash, and wild rice were donated and no one should have left hungry. This was a people-driven event made possible by donations and volunteers. There is no greater appreciation that can be expressed to all the guests, planners, presenters, growers, hunters, cooks, singers, dancers, setup/clean-up volunteers and most importantly, those who have shared a little of their wisdom to guide us to a successful evening of fun, food, and dancing.
While some songs and stories may be gone, many are still around. As we continue this revitalized form of what once was, maybe we’ll learn more as we go. One thing that hasn’t disappeared is our incredible appreciation for the things our Creator has placed here for use to live even when we feel we have nothing, we have all we need just as we had in the beginning. This is something we pass to the next generation to remind them that meat doesn’t always come from the butcher and vegetables, from the produce section, and that not all medicine is stored in a pharmacy. The Green Corn Dance is one of the ways to show the life these gifts give us and show our appreciation.
For this reason, we will continue. We’ll see you at harvest time and be ready to dance!