Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Sacred Strawberrying Time!


If you live in the Eastern Woodlands of Turtle Island, you know that it is Strawberry Time!

Native American pow-wows and Strawberry Festivals are being held from Maine to Florida to Michigan and Indigenous peoples are celebrating! These celebrations are not just about delicious berries, though. The Strawberry is sacred to Indigenous peoples of the Eastern nations (like the Cherokee, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Ojibway, Shawnee, and hundreds of others). Known as the Heart Berry to some nations, it is strongly linked to women.

The Strawberry is featured in traditional stories of most Eastern nations. This is one reason why it is so sacred and revered. In some stories, First Woman uses the sweetness of the Strawberry to mend conflict between herself and First Man, which makes Strawberry a source of reconciliation and healing.

Strawberry is the first berry to ripen of all the berries in the East, and this also makes her special. She reminds us of the sweetness of life after the long barren winter has passed, and that this sweetness is available to all people (and chipmunks and birds too!). She is also a reminder of the bright red blood of women's sacred mooncycles and the continuance of Native American culture through the lineages of Native women. Berries are often key elements in Eastern Native girls' coming of age ceremonies. For example, the Ojibway people call their ceremony for girls who have their first menstrual cycle a Berry Fast.b2ap3_thumbnail_Jingle-Dress-Girl-Dancers.jpg

If you are able to get down on the earth and are fortunate enough to find a field or lawn where real Native strawberries are growing, get up close and take a look. They are quite small and grow very close to the ground. This also makes them special: close proximity to Mother Earth. You will see their runners fanning out over the earth, like Indigenous kinship networks, from which the Strawberries grow. Everything about the Strawberry is a lesson in Native American cultures.

If you want to taste a real Strawberry, a living Teacher and Elder of the Native American people, ask Her first. Take time to really taste Her. Say Thank You. Feel the beautiful rich beating of your own Heart Berry inside your chest. Feel all the Love. The Earth Mother is still speaking, and she is paying attention to everyone, to YOU. Remember to say thanks to Her.


A well-known saying of Cherokee mothers to their daughters is "I'm putting all my strawberries in your basket." This complex and loving cultural practice is ultimately about continuance--the power to give life from one generation to the next: spiritual life, cultural life, biological life, and political life. To the Native American nations of the East, that little red berry has a very deep and ancient meaning.

If you live in the eastern United States, look for pow-wows and Strawberry festivals in your local area and go meet your Native American neighbors. Many good things can begin over a bowl of Strawberries!



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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


  • William
    William Thursday, 25 June 2015

    This all seems appropriate to me. My wife and daughter are adopted members of the Chippewa tribe, and when she was young we were mountain climbing in the Colorado Rockies. Coming back down the mountain, we found a meadow full of strawberry bushes! Needless to say, we thanked the Mother, ate our fill, and took some bags back to the cabin for dessert that evening. Yummy! That day will remain with me forever. :-) We still talk about that day, Ladybug and I. My wife's Chippewa name is Brave Heron.

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