One Hominy Committee member revives an Osage Tradition
By: Roseanne McKee
Reprinted with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
Corn soup is a staple of traditional Osage food. However, many may not know that traditionally a specific heirloom variety of corn, called Osage Indian corn, is preferred.
One Hominy Village Committee member, Scott Lohah, has taken it upon himself to revive the practice of growing, harvesting and sharing Osage Indian corn at the In-Lonshka Dances held in each Osage Village in June.
The corn, which is red in color, is grown, harvested, shucked, dried in the sun and stored. A year later, the dried corn is given to the Hominy Indian Village Committee as a gift from Scott Lohah and his family.
Lohah is dedicated to this task and to perpetuating this Osage tradition, which had nearly died out. I had to be persistent to get an interview with him because the first three times I called, his wife said, he was out tending his cornfield!
When we met, Lohah explained to me that for a time, farmers in Osage County, which he referred to as sharecroppers, planted and sold the Osage Indian corn to the Osage people for the In-Lonshka dances. For decades during the twentieth century, the corn was readily available for purchase, and so the Osage stopped growing it themselves.
However, when the number of sharecroppers dwindled, the Osage Indian corn nearly disappeared from Osage tables. For this reason, Lohah decided to begin planting the corn and sharing it.
“This is the traditional Osage way of planting the Osage Indian corn. My mother was told to put three in the hole. That’s just the way it’s done,” Lohah said.
He gave me an article from the Sept. 2011 issue of Progressive Farmer Magazine, which bears out the advantages of this planting method, called clump farming.
Although the article doesn’t credit the Osage, this is the way they have planted the corn for generations, Lohah explained.
Bobby Stewart, Director of the West Texas A&M Maryland Agriculture Institute at Canyon is quoted in the article: “With clump-seeding, we get fewer tillers, but each plant has access to more of the limited, available solid moisture and soil fertility. Leaves lap around each other and provide protection against the sun and wind to reduce transpiration.”
The article goes on to say that experiments conducted in 2003 at the USDA ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Tex., showed that the grain yields for both corn and sorghum were 70 percent, to more than 100 percent greater, when clump-seeding was used compared to the single-seed planting method.
Lucas Haag, Assistant Superintendent of the Southwest Research Extension Center in Tribune, Kan., said in the article that clump farming helps farmers in a year of drought, but doesn’t reduce the crop yield in years with heavier rains — an advantage for farmers who can’t predict the rain levels in advance.
It is also interesting to note that according to the article, irrigation doesn’t seem to boost the clump-seeding yields.
The article suggests that three seeds per hole is the magic number by citing an example of a farmer who planted four seeds and didn’t see any advantage to clump-seeding.
Scott Lohah agrees. Three seeds are the number per hole that he, his mother and his ancestors were taught to plant.
“In the olden days, three seeds go into one hole. In a semi-arid environment, the corn stalks shade one another and share moisture by being planted one or two together,” Lohah said.
The Osage Indian corn is has a higher level of protein than other corn varieties, Lohah said, “supposedly nineteen percent.”
In growing and harvesting the corn, Lohah is following in the footsteps of his grandparents, his mother and his aunt, Francis Oberly Holding and her family, especially her son, Homer Joe Holding.
“About 28 to 30 years ago, the Hominy Friends (Quaker) Meeting wanted to do a youth project, and so I decided to do it because no one else was doing it or knew about it.”
His friend from work, Paul Clark, helped Lohah begin planting his own corn fields.
It is traditional for village committee members to give gifts to the committee for the annual community dinner held during the In-Lonshka Dances.
The In-Lonshka dances, which are spiritual in nature, are held every June in each of the three Osage Villages. The villages are on located on land held in trust by the federal government. Each village has its own written constitution and a governing five-person board. The three villages are located in Osage County in: Pawhuska, Hominy and Grayhorse, near Fairfax.
The In-Lonshka Dances are different from pow wows. They are by invitation only and no photographs of those in the dance arbor are allowed.
To learn more about the Osage tribe, visit the Osage News website at: http://osagenews.org/.