by Grandmother Waynonaha
In the time of our ancestors, we lived by the seasons and what was in nature. Many of our ceremonies were predicted by the moon and seasons.
Each of the months has a name this way we were able to tell time and live in harmony with all things. The Moon of the Strawberry is an especially important one for the women it is the time to come and gather for the rites of passage and other teachings and sharing with the Elder Woman. As our culture was an oral and ceremonial one it was important that we did all of these things. In this way we assured our future generations the knowledge and traditions so that the people would always remember their history.
It is said that Creator makes plants for every thing we need here on this Earth for medicine. All we have to do is honor them and care this will assure us many years of healing.
In the times before the coming of the white men and women we celebrated each thing in its season. The strawberry was one of the ceremonies that even today is still done on the reservations.
When the month of the planting came, we looked for the first strawberries to ripen. For weeks the young women would go out and gather these small and sweet berries until the first full moon in the season. On the day of the first full moon there would be hundreds of women gathering for the ceremony of the strawberry. By the time the moon was full so was the huge pottery jars of crushed fermenting strawberries.
All the women brought their camps to the gathering place. Only women and female children were allowed in these camps the exception was a male child that may be still nursing and they stayed in a separate shelter.
The heartbeat would be started on the council drum and would continue until the last say of council when the elder women would close the ceremony. This heartbeat was kept all day and night for the duration of the full moon. On the third day of the full moon the strawberry drink was brought out and all of this was taken by the women in the council until it was all gone.
Many things happened during this time like the rites of passage for the younger women and for the older women. The three circles of women were around the central fire that was started from the beginning of the ceremony. This fire was a sacred fire and only to be used for ceremony. The younger women who were in there first season of moon time were the first circle around the fire. Then the women who were will of childbearing years the second circle. After this the women who were no longer having their moon time then the Grandmothers and Elders.
There were four circles of women around the fire. In this ceremony the Elders would hand a pair of moccasins into the circle of Grandmothers who in turn would pass them to the circle of mothers they in turn would hand them to the young women. When this was done the young women would put them on and then step back into the circle of women. The Women who had given up their moon time would then step into the circle of Grandmothers and the Grandmothers who had been invited into the circle of Elders would then step into that circle. So we now have three circles of women.
Then they begin to dance the circle dance the first circle going clock wise the next going counter clock wise and the last clock wise. This dancing would go on through the night and in the morning all would celebrate with much gifting and wearing of their new clothing they had made just for this occasion. Many a marriage was decided unknown to the youngest women by the Elders. You see the Elders watch you and know you so they already know who you will be with and that you will get along well.
The younger women were instructed by the Grandmothers about marriage and how to properly act in the presence of men from now on. There were many things a young woman could not do from that time on. One was that she would always keep her eyes down in a modest way. She would from that day on wear her skirts long and keep her personal appearance tidy and clean. She would then attend the moon lodge with the women, other ceremonies were to be part of her training from that day forward. Childbirth was always attended by many young women so that they could learn the skills of birthing and the ceremony around this event. The Strawberry plant is important in our culture and if it is not honored or used then it will disappear from this Earth. The plant was given to the women and all of this plant is for healing of the women. The berry is a natural medicine for the womb and the leaves make tea for childbirth. The roots are used for healing after childbirth.
The young women were taken care of by the Elders in the camp and did not go to the river without an elder woman with them. Everything was done in groups, and no one wondered off alone this was just not done and would invite unwanted gossip. There was much fun in the berry picking and other things the community did. My Grandmother said that they laughed a lot when she was a young girl. Now she said it is all work and no laughing. For this time, we still gather and dance on the full moon of June we honor the strawberry and the women on this day.
Young women had to keep her virtue and her physical appearance was at all times important. No more would she be playing with the other younger children but would spend more time cooking and doing bead work and leather work. Other things that were done in the home like pottery making was a community event so all were involved in this activity. Even the men made pottery and helped to dry the meat on the low smoky fires.
It was not a problem to be in the young women's society as there were many things that took place like social dances and the announcement that you were ready for marriage. A woman had many sisters and elders to talk to and she was never alone.
A young woman could choose a husband for herself but if she failed to show interest then the Elders would step in to advise her and help her make a choice. All was in order and the women owned the homes in the village, they were taken care of and protected by the men. No man could ever hit his wife or children and no man would ever harm his children. Justice was swift and clear. If a man was not a good husband or father, the wife sought council with the Elders and they would decide what to do. The council of Elders would then take this man and talk to him about his ways. If he could not agree then he would have to leave that home. Sometimes he would have to leave the village
if the crime was really severe. He was then never more allowed to see his wife or children again. Men and women were not unfaithful in those days as the punishment was hard. Women who strayed from their marriage beds were dealt with very badly. Many had their noses cut just one nostril to show that they were unfaithful. After that no man wanted them and they just drifted off or left the village from loneliness.
Life was hard and if all was to be in order then the enforcement of sacred space and boundaries had to be held. There was a lot of time to enjoy life and many white women when captured by the Indians did not want to return to the hard life the frontier offered them. They much preferred the Indian life and its freedom to enjoy and without the restriction placed on them in society.
The women had a sacred place in the law of the community and held a vote and could speak when there was council. All was respected and all were equal in the council.
The planting was always directed by the Clan Grandmothers and all the village was organized in this way.
It took great wisdom to live and survive in those times. When the council was over, we took home a little of the ashes of the sacred fire to add to our own fire in our lodge. It was a good time to live and still to this day is a healing and good way to remember a more happier time.