Electa Hare Redcorn, Pawnee and Yankton Sioux
From the power and beauty of the corn to a lifestyle and source of prayer, Electa shows us that colonization cannot define or limit what we are capable of—in 1998, there were just about 75 indigenous seeds left in Pawnee Nation, but through social work and agricultural preservation, Electa has spread more than sacred seeds:On a basketball scholarship at Cameron University, Electa majored in sociology, while simultaneously starring on the basketball team, waiting tables, and working at the YMCA. It was there that she discovered her passion to make people feel safe and protected.Immediately out of college she became a social worker in her hometown of Pawnee, Oklahoma. To alleviate the stress that accompanies the process of identifying when a child has been abused or neglected, she turned to the outdoors—listening to the birds, looking in creeks, being around growth, plants, and the corn came naturally. This process brought her to The Pawnee Seed Project founded by Deb EchoHawk, a matriarchal miracle born of persistence and resistance to save and grow their own pre-colonial seeds.
To understand that miracle, one has to go back in time to the 1870s when the U.S. Army forced the Pawnee tribe from its home in Nebraska to Oklahoma. The Pawnee carried their corn seeds with them, but their new home was less hospitable than their old one for growing corn. Over the years, the tribe’s supply of seeds dwindled until those remaining were so precious they were stored away and no longer planted or used in ceremonies.
“The English language doesn’t give it justice for what our natural resources mean to us; there’s spirituality there and a connection to our ancestors and our language, culture, and traditions, and that comes from just working in the corn, being close to the earth—if you were forced from your home in a flash, if there was a fire or flood or a situation where agents were pushing you out and you had to walk, what would you, what could you take with you? For the Pawnee, it was their children, their elders, and their seeds.”
Those three elements are inseparably intertwined: the elders pass on the teachings to the children, the children grow to reciprocate and furthur pass them on, the corn sustains them both, and thus itself in that way. Life unravels without a single one of the three so it’s pretty straightforward why Electa has dedicated her work to reviving the corn: it’s essential to spiritual and physical health.
She is currently a Health Policy Research Scholar, as a Ph.D. student in community development at the University of Arkansas.
The goal of Electa’s research is to reduce chronic disease and obesity by strengthening tribal capacity in policy making for agriculture and health, “For Pawnee people, seven years is how often we’re supposed to renew, refresh, and take care of our corn; it’s a cycle. It’s something that we honored then but has basically been put away. But now, I’m starting to talk and be amongst our elders to talk about the corn and how we receive a blessing every time we’re near it.”
Last summer, she worked with contemporary farmers and gardeners in Nebraska to grow and document their seeds in their original homelands, where they successfully harvested two large crops and brought that corn back to Pawnee to spread the table in their home community.
Also, did we mention that she’s a full-time mother of three beautiful daughters, wife to Ryan RedCorn and has an LCSW and MSW from Washington University? She’s our shero, and we can only hope to be as remarkable as her one day.