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Nearly Extinct Corn Making A Comeback
For the Pawnee Nation, an almost forgotten food source is becoming familiar again, thanks to the efforts of the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project. This volunteer group aims to bring the regionís native corn varieties back from the brink of extinction.
Corn has long been a staple crop for the Pawnee, and its prevalence in ceremonies and daily life made it sacred. In the 19th century, forced migration from Nebraska to Oklahoma made growing the tribeís heirloom corn varieties in the arid climate and alkaline soil all but impossible. After decades of crop failure, only a few kernels remained.
In 2003, tribe member Deb Echo-Hawk started the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project. A few kernels were provided to the Archway Museum in Nebraska for planting.
The corn had a slow start and a few bad harvests, but by 2005 enough had produced ears to boost the seed inventory.
As the corn collection grew, something stood out. Many cobs produced unusual kernels that didnít match known varieties. In essence, these corn kernels were exhibiting recessive traits that exhibited characteristics of long-lost Pawnee varieties. By carefully cultivating these unique kernels, the group members could reestablish previously lost heirloom corn varieties.
The corn revival project continues today, and each year members of the Pawnee Nation gather for a reveal of that seasonís harvest. To date, the Pawnee corn seed bank includes varieties ranging from yellow and blue flour to flint, sweet and speckled, eagle corn, and many more. Each seasonís corn is grown in close to two dozen gardens throughout Central Nebraska, and the best ears are set aside to replenish the seed bank.
As the annual harvests continue to grow, thereís now enough available to use in ceremonies so that every member can try it firsthand.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, 881 Little Dee Dr., Pawnee, Okla. 74058 (ph 918-762-3621).


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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #2