Subtopic: Green Corn Festival

Grade Level: 5th - 6th

Author: Erin Jessop



The Green Corn Festival (also called Green Corn Dance or Ceremony) is a Native American celebration and religious ceremony. The dance is held by the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Yuchi, and Iroquois Indians as well as other Native American tribes. The festival typically lasts for three days for all tribes and includes numerous different activities that vary from tribe to tribe. For example, the Yuchi tribe celebration begins in late April and early May and last until about the third week of July. The opening day of the ceremony varies across tribes depending when the corn is ripe. This can be any time from May to October and is determined by the "Keepers of the Faith." Corn is not to be eaten until the Great Spirit has been given his proper thanks.

During the festival, members of the tribe give thanks for the corn, rain, sun, and a good harvest. The thanksgiving is sacred to the Indians. Folk tales are popular telling what happens when thanks is not given. Some tribes even believe that they were made from corn by the Great Spirits. Dragonfly's Tale by Kristina Rodanas and People of Corn, A Mayan Story retold by Mary-Joan Gerson tell of such stories.  

The Green Corn Festival is also a religious renewal . Members of the tribe join at a religious gathering and stand with heads bent to show reverence. (Indians never kneel.) After a minute a prayer is said (see Appendix A for a copy of the prayer). In between the thanksgivings is the Great Feather Dance. Depending on the tribe women, may or may not be included in this dance.

Although it is not part of the ceremonial purpose of the Green Corn Dance, council meetings are also seen during the dance and festival. With the exceptions of murder and infractions of marriage rules, the old year's minor problems are forgiven at the council meetings. Youth who have come of age and babies are given their names. This is a distinct part of Indian life.

The ball game is included in the festival. It is played at different times and the rules vary depending on the tribe. The Yuchi tribe plays a tournament in the early spring (see Appendix B for the Yuchi Tribe's annual calendar). The Iroquois tribes throw a ball at a pole to see who can throw it the highest. The Yuchi tribes have teams (boys against girls) that try to get the ball into baskets at opposite ends of a field. The Yuchi tribe has four tournament games beginning in April and lasting for four weekends. In the Yuchi tribe the boys throw and catch the ball but may not run with the ball. The girls may run with the ball as well as catch and throw the ball in order to get it into the basket.

Another part of the religious ceremony is the busk. The word busk comes from the word boskita and means to fast. The Creek New Year is marked with this part of the ceremony. At this time, members of the tribe clean out homes, throw out ashes, and buy or make new clothes. All the "filth" and broken items from the tribe are put into one common heap and burned. It is an outward sign of the inward renewal to their religion.

The "Black Drink" is also a way the Indians cleanse themselves and is another sign of renewal. The drink causes vomiting. It purifies participants from minor sins and leaves them in a state of perfect innocence. It also give them courage to be daring during war and strength to keep friendships.

At the end of every day, the people feast. Everyone can participate and enjoy the food and good harvest. Slabs of beef, corn soup, beans, squash are eaten. The tribes celebrate a good harvest and eat many different meals made from corn: tortillas, corn meal, corn bread, corn soup, and others as well.

The Green Corn Festival varies across tribes. This makes it difficult to give you all the information you will need to teach a well thought out unit. However, as I read the overriding theme of diversity and respect was evident. Although the Natives Americans traditions varied they still had respect and gratitude for what they had been blessed with in their lives.



Ballard, W. L. (1978). The Yuchi Green Corn Ceremonial: Form and Meaning. Los Angeles, CA: University of California American Indian Studies Center.

Cohen, Hennig and Coffin, Tristam. (1987). The Folklore of American Holidays. Detroit, MI: Book Tower.

Gerson, Mary-Joan. (1995). People of Corn A Mayan Story. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Rodanas, Kristina. (1991). Dragonfly's Tale. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

Rozakis, Laurie. (1993). Celebrate! Holidays Around the World. Santa Barbara, CA: The Learning Works.



* Given the mini unit on the Green Corn Festival, students will reflect in journals how the Green Corn Festival compares to our present day holidays and look for ways that the tribes celebrate it differently.

* Given the Green Corn Festival lessons, students will list at least five new items that they have learned.

* Given the story, Dragonfly's Tale, students will write a thank you note using the correct thank you note form.

* Given the Thanksgiving Prayer, students will write a poem that expresses what they are thankful for.

* Given all the activities included in the Green Corn Unit, students will participate in an appropriate manner with teachers and show respect for the ideas given.


Time Allotment:

* Approximately 3 to 4 class periods.


Resources Needed:

* Posters for KWL activity

* Background information for numbered heads together

* Copy of the Thanksgiving Prayer

* Dragonfly's Tale

* Thank you note cards with sample

* Cleaning supplies for when desks are cleaned

* Reflection Journals for the class members



A: KWL. What I know, what I what to know, and what I learned. Asked the students what they know about the Green Corn Festival, list this on a poster board. In small groups of 3 - 5, have the students come up with at least four questions that they want to know about the Green Corn Festival. List these on another poster board. At the end of the unit and after each activity, have each student answer the what they want to know questions, and list things they learned about the Green Corn Festival.

B: Mini-lecture. Tell the students about the Green Corn Festival. It is a Native American Holiday, which celebrates a good corn harvest. It also is a religious ceremony in which the Indians are forgiven for the past years minor mistakes and everything is cleaned to show their renewal of commitment to the Great Spirit. Give the students a chance to add to the "What they want to know list" and the "What I learned list" from the KWL.

C. Numbered Heads Together. In order for the kids to learn about the different parts of the Green Corn Festival we will divide the class into 4 groups. Within the groups the students will learn about the thanksgiving prayer, council meetings, the ball game, busk, and the "black drink." Give the students a background sheet about each of the topics. Have all students read the new information and discuss within their groups. Give the students a list of questions and make sure that all students within the group can answer all the questions. Number the students off within their groups. Have student #3 answer question#1, student #1 answer question #2 and so forth until all the questions have been answered by the designated students within the groups. Grading will be as follows. Collect groups number one's papers and correct the answers. Add up the points from each of the students question and give the entire group this grade. Repeat for each of the remaining groups. Add to the KWL posters.

D. Literature Extension. Ask the students to listen for ways the people were ungrateful for thegood corn harvest. Read the story, Dragonfly's Tale, retold by Kristina Rodanas. Have the students identify the ways people were ungrateful and write on the board. Have the students read in pairs the story again and list the ways the children and people showed their gratitude to the Corn Maidens. When the students have completed this have groups of 6 students come up with 4 ways that they can show gratitude today for their food and meals. Examples could be to eat all their food, eat leftovers, tell their parents thank you, or write a thank you note. Once the students have completed the list of ways they can show gratitude. Have students write a thank you notes. Model for the students the correct thank you note form.

E. Language Arts. Read the Thanksgiving Prayer or part of the Thanksgiving Prayer to your class. As a class read list some of the items the Indians were grateful for in the Thanksgiving Prayer. Have the class create a poem of thanks that expresses what they are glad they have been given.

F. Simulation. Tell the students that they are to clean out their desks. There should be nothing left that is broken or old. Students will wash the tops of the desks, too. Groups of the class will be assigned to clean up various parts of the room e.g., the reading center or discovery center. When everything is clean students will return to their desks for a discussion on the Cherokee New Year or busk. Bring out the points that the busk or fast cleans out the body just like when we cleaned out our desks, because we get rid of what we don't need. By cleaning out their homes and bodies the Indians showed the Great Spirit that they'd renewed their commitment to live a better life.

G. Corners. Play one of the forms of the Ball Game. If you pick the Iroquois Style the girls may not play. If you pick the Yuchi style their are different rules for the girls and boys. Tell the class you are going to make ta statement. Designate the four corners of the room with strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree. Then make the statement, "Girls should be given different rules then boys." or "Girls should not be allowed to play ball games." The question you used would depend on the form of the game you decided upon. Have the class move to the corner that fits their opinion of the statement. In pairs have students explain their reasoning and ideas. Share as a larger group. If a group is too large break it into smaller groups. Ask an individual student from the larger group to explain the entire groups reasoning. If any of the students want to change their opinion they may do so. Ask they student why their opinion changed.

H. Reflection Journal. After each activity is completed have the class reflect in a journal entry. Look for ways the tribes celebrated differently, what the students learned that they did not already know, and how the holiday compares to our present day holidays.



* Participation in all activities will be assessed.

* The list of what students learned from the KWL will be assessed.

* The numbered heads together quiz will be assessed.

* The thank you note will be graded for the correct thank you note form.

* Students will be assessed on their participation and the ideas they give for the class poem of thanksgiving.

* Groups will be informally assessed for their ideas in the corners activity.

* Desks will be checked for cleanliness.

* The reflection journal will be assessed.


Optional Activities:

* Learn the parts of the corn plant.

* Have a feast featuring corn. Corn bread, corn tortillas, corn soup, and corn on the cob are possible foods that could be featured.

* A lesson on health and diet could be used. Discussing the "black drink" might be used in this lesson.


Appendix A:

The Thanksgivings.

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.

We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.

We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.

We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.

We thank Him for all the animals n the earth.

We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all. (Maple).

We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.

We thank Him for the beings that come from the West, the thunder ad lightening that water the earth.

We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.

We thank Him for all the fruit that grows on the trees and vines.

We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank all its trees.

We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.

We thank Him for the bright spot in the skies that gives us signs, the stars.

We give Him thanks for our supporters, who have charge of our harvests.

We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the words of a Ga-ne-o-di-o (by his religion).

We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.

We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music, and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.

We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this occasion.


Appendix B:



April- May

3 ball games at 2 week intervals


4th ball game; first stomp dance

May- June

2 stomp dances at 2 week intervals

1st weekend of July

4th stomp dance: Arbor day

2nd weekend of July

Green Corn Ceremonial

3rd weekend of July

Soup Dance

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