Indigenous Corn Restoration Project

2008 Annual Report for LNC08-301

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $150,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: White Earth Land Recovery Project
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Winona LaDuke
White Earth Land Recovery Project

Indigenous Corn Restoration Project


The White Earth Land Recovery Project has sponsored the Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference for the past 5 years. Our 2009 conference held in the month of February, provided the networking necessary to contact local and regional farmers to whom we could introduce the Indigenous Corn Restoration project. Their was a total of 80 representatives from tribes of this region in attendance including Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota, Red Lake Nation, Leech Lake Nation, Mille Lacs Ojibwe, Menominee Nation, Oneida Nation, Bay Mills Ojibwe, Keewanaw Bay Ojibwe, Saginaw Chippewa Ojibwe. The conference hosted around 30 students from the Pine Point Elementary school in Ponsford, Minnesota. During the conference we had workshops and presentations on corn including; hominy making and tasting, corn cultivation displays, and seed saving presentations. We grew two separate crops of heritage corn on the White Earth reservation, a Bear Island Flint Corn, and a Manitoba white flint corn. We grew these corn in both fields and in three sisters mounds in our heritage garden. We did extensive outreach and background research.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Research and background work on historical and anthropological corn data, restoration of bear island flint corn. Inital outreach into farmers.

l) Research into anthropological and other sources: beginning with Corn of the Upper Missouri, we began historical and ethnograhical research into tribal corn varieties of the region. This landed us further research leads, and provided a foundation of families to discuss this subject with from the various communities. We undertook research into dissertations and other anthropological background materials on corn varieties , through interviewing tribal historical and academics who worked in these issues.

2) We grew four acres of Bear Island Flint Corn, and worked with Curt Ballard to grow an additional 4 acres of Bear Island Flint Corn. This corn is very productive in our region , and is a multi-colored flint corn. We are keen on expanding the varieties we grow to a yellow and white flint corn, as these are also of great interest to our community. We began outreach to other farmers about the corn, and found that we had great interest in the tribal and non tribal community to grow these varieties.

3) We did outreach to farmers by presenting at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Meeting in February of 2008, and beginning to discuss this issue, as well we went to meet with corn growers and seed savers Steve Zwinger and David Podoll about our interest in restoration. We did a presentation at the United Tribes Technical College, and at the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe, garnering more interest in the project. We were able to bring school children from the Pine Point Elementary School out to the field and pick.


Background work and research identified secondary sources, and interview possibilities to follow up with in the communities. This also helped us identify possible varieties to find near the reservation and in the adjoining areas, and in seed repositories like the National Plant Germplasm System (GRIN) and in tribal communities.

Growing corn varieties each year teaches us something new about how the variety responds to inclimate weather, various traditional fertilizers and adapted fertilizers, and our cultivation methods. Growing traditional corn allows us to teach our children about our history, and produce traditional foods for our schools. This also spurs more interest in the youth in our work. In 2008 we were able to harvest corn varieties with children from the Pine Point Elementary School. We will continue this harvest work each year. And hope to have more interest in youth because of our example.

Our outreach resulted in greater interest in corn growing in the communities in our region.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

l) Researching historic and new dissertations found us new allies in the corn research, and has allowed us to begin to put together materials in a format which will be culturally appropriate for Native people and their allies in the region.

2) Growing corn varieties has meant that this is the foundation of regional seeds stock. Presenting these corn varieties at cultural events in our region has met with great resonance, as the ceremonial foods associated with the cultural ceremonies have returned. This is a very great occasion for our people, and can’t be quantified. However, this also means that more songs and stories are forwarded to our people from the community, as they see the good of the corn and the project.

3) The Indigenous Farming Conference of 2008, hosted around l00 individuals from the region who were keen to create a tribal food restoration program. We were able to meet with indigenous corn growers from other regions as well to encourage cultural and technical collaboration, and generated more interest in non-Native farmers in our region about the corn varieties.


Steve Zwinger

[email protected]
Research Specialist
North Dakota State University
663 Hwy. 281 NE
PO Box 219
Carrington, ND 58421
Office Phone: 7016522951
Dr. Marcelo Carena

[email protected]
North Dakota State University
Loftsgard Hall PO Box 5051
Fargo, ND 58102
Office Phone: 7012317971