Last spring, as COVID-19 swept the nation, Daniel Cornelius planted. A member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, he lives in the rolling farm country south of Madison, where he planted carrots and tomatoes, as well as traditional Native American crops – beans, pumpkins, and corn in hues ranging from cream to deep red and bearing names like Tuscarora white, Mohawk yellow, and Bear Island flint.
He helped others plant, too. In June he took his small walk-behind tractor north to help members of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa start gardens, heaping the soil in long mounded rows in imitation of traditional planting hills. He brought squash seeds to the reservation of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, where members have been building raised beds after ancient Menominee practice. He tapped box-elder trees for syrup and gathered wild rice, and in September he brought them to a bartering event on the Oneida reservation, near Green Bay, where he traded them for peppers, quail eggs, and corn soup.
“Almost everyone wanted that box-elder syrup,” he says.
Mr. Cornelius is part of a growing “food sovereignty” movement among Native Americans, an effort aimed at increasing local food production and reviving Indigenous agricultural and culinary practices. It’s a broad-ranging movement that includes families growing vegetables in backyard gardens and an ever-expanding network of regional and…