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The Davidson College Catawba Corn Collaborative

by | Sep 14, 2023

Students, faculty, and staff are part of the collaborative corn effort.


Davidson, the college & town, and surrounding areas were Catawba land. White settlers often violently displaced the indigenous people who lived on and farmed the land. Several years ago, the college began looking for ways to honor and show respect the history of the land and the peoples who lived here. The result was the creation of a collaboration known as Duta Bahiisere Kus Rahere, which means “We Know Corn Together” in the Catawba language.

Early last year native Catawba corn was planted as an art installation entitled “Unshadowed Land.” The project was the work of Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist from Alaska. An article published by the college February 2022 described Galanin’s work as follows:

. . .an evolving art exhibit that acknowledges the Native Americans oppressed by land theft, violence and forced assimilation. And it will symbolize the college community’s efforts to forge an ongoing relationship with Native communities in the region. . . The Unshadowed Land exhibit began in November as Davidson volunteers tilled soil in the shape and scale of the Andrew Jackson monument on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. . . It’s a relatively small amount, but they’ll plant a much larger crop on the college farm. In summer and fall, the group will harvest the corn to share a meal with Catawba Nation members and give them seeds to help build their collection.

Thursday morning a group of folks arrived at the Davidson College farm to walk the rows of corn stalks to harvest corn from one of those larger crops. Professor Rose Stremlau, associate professor of history, coordinated the volunteers and leads the overall collaborative effort for the college. She organizes the events and programs with the support of Professor Annie Merrill, Thomson Professor of Environmental Studies, and Lia Newman, Director and Curator – Van Every/Smith Galleries. Halle Murphy, the campus farmer, oversees growing the corn. Professor Susana Wadgymar, assistant professor of Biology, oversees student research. Students on hand for Thursday’s harvest work on the farm and in Professor Wadgymar’s lab. They also provide labor and research work for Black Snake Farm, the Catawba farm. The group is scheduled to harvest at Black Snake Farm Saturday.

The native corn included white corn as well as some colorful cobs or individual kernels. This variety of corn is best used as the basis for grits, corn flour, and cornmeal. It’s not the kind of corn that you boil and lather in butter for your next barbecue.

And while this crop of corn was planted in a field set back off Grey Road, another crop was planted just off the road and is visible to drivers heading into town. That patch of corn is expected to be ready for harvesting in about a month.

Stremlau noted that the college will be bringing the community together on November 8 to meet and dine with chef and native foods historian Loretta Barrett Oden. The member of the Potawatomi tribe will be on campus to prepare a meal at The Commons. In fact, some of the corn gathered on Thursday will be part of that meal. The community will be invited, and more details will be available in coming weeks. Additionally, all the events and meals on campus will be replicated at the Catawba Nation.

Additional events will include a lecture by an Indigenous artist whose print and textile works explore issues of social connection and cross-cultural interactions resulting from settler colonialism, a historian involved in the work of reconciliation with Native people in his own community, and a Native scholar of traditional agricultural methods and sustainability.

See more photos from the harvest.

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