Walking in the Footsteps of My Foremothers

Image of Pvska Oti Ibalhto with squash and pinto beans on a table.
Pvska Oti Ibalhto with squash and pinto beans

In this piece, Misty Underwood, Program Coordinator, Indigenous Pathways at Queen’s University, reflects on the transformative power of remembering; remembering her foremothers, homelands, ancestral seeds and foodways.

I walk in the footsteps of my foremothers;  

I carry their stories and seeds. 

I walk in their path, with ceremony growing corn and beans; 

I am given life. 

I walk as they have walked praying, singing, dreaming; 

I walk along my journey, 

Ever spiraling

     I know that my path is never lonely. 

Each step I walk in my foremothers’ footsteps is a step upon the sacred path, 

      for those who walked before me, 

      for those who walk beside me, 

      for those who will walk long after me.

Image of Pvska Oti Ibalhto with salad, Black eyed peas and collard greens on a table.
Pvska Oti Ibalhto with salad, black eyed peas and collard greens

Hesci. Oske Wske cvhocefkv tos. Halito. Chahta ohoyo sia.  

Howdy y’all! I am a Muscogee Creek and Choctaw descendent. I moved from Texas in 2010 for graduate studies. I have stayed for employment and am tremendously grateful and fortunate to be working with folks across Queen’s University with the goal of growing a new pathway for Indigenous learners.  

Image of osafkey a traditional variety of Muscogee ancestral corn seed.
Osafkey_Traditional Variety of Muscogee Ancestral Corn Seed

While I am passionately committed to post-secondary access for Indigenous learners, I am equally passionate about ancestral foodways and Indigenous food sovereignty. In fact, I do not see these as different. In 2014 I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Muscogee Food Sovereignty Initiative. The late Stephanie Berryhill and I spent countless hours gushing over sofkey (a traditional corn variety) and Muscogee pumpkin seeds. We had the shared dream of wide-reaching land-based education. Inspired further by my grandparents’ teachings, I began growing ancestral seed varieties such as corn, squash, beans, tobacco, gourds, tomatoes, chili peppers, and sunflowers.  

This began a journey of remembering. Remembering my foremothers, homelands, ancestral seeds, and foodways has been transformative. The difficult thing is that the life I was remembering is denied by the ongoing realities of colonialism. Further, I was struggling with autoimmune disease. I was unable to balance my coordinator role and teaching obligations with ensuring I could attend to my health. I knew the only long-term therapy was an ancestral diet. Unexpectedly COVID-19 created the conditions for me to begin working from home. This resulted in greater flexibility to do more to care for my health.  

Image of two plates on a table. 
 One plate hasTanchi Labonna on it and the other plate has Pvska Oti Ibalhto.
Tanchi Labonna and Pvska Oti Ibalhto

As we have transitioned back to on-campus work, I am lucky to be able to continue working predominantly from home. Working from home saves 3 hours per day (transit commute and breaks), 12 hours a week (I currently work 4 days from home), and an estimated 564 hours a year (adjusted for vacation and holidays) that I can commit to my well-being. Over my remaining work-life that number could become higher than 14,664 hours. The past two years of COVID have taught me much about balance and how little we have of it in the structures that make up our daily lives. I fear losing all that I have gained someday.  

Image of severl plated food times that include: Pvska Oti Ibalhto with squash, pinto beans, and lemon halves.
Pvska Oti Ibalhto with squash and pinto beans

The simple fact is that for some of us, working from home makes a significant difference in our overall quality of life. Remembering my ancestral foodways is not only healing for myself, but healing for life around me. What could I hope to do personally or professionally that would be more impactful?  

Healing is remembering our ancestral connections.  

Healing is walking in the footsteps of my foremothers.  

Healing is dismantling the systems that deny these ancestral connections, including the very nature of “work.”  

Mvto. 

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