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The story of Chief Handsome Lake and the nearly lost Three Sisters

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Seneca (Onondowahgah) leader Chief Handsome Lake had a profound spiritual experience during a time of personal crisis. He fell seriously ill and, while in a delirium, had a vision where he encountered three beings, referred to as the “Three Sisters.” These entities imparted sacred teachings and instructions to Handsome Lake, guiding him on a path of renewal and revitalization for his people.

This TED-Ed, written by Rebecca Webster and directed by Luisa Holanda, shares the story of Chief Handsome Lake and how the famous Three Sisters survived colonialism and cultural disruption. Who were these three wise women?

the three sisters
In traditional Native American agriculture, corn, beans, and squash are commonly known as the “three sisters” because they’re grown together in a mutually beneficial manner. The corn acts as a natural trellis for the beans to climb, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting all three crops, and the squash vines spread along the ground, helping to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture under large leaves.

healthy soil and plants
This agricultural system helped sustain Haudenosaunee communities by providing a nutritious and reliable food source, demonstrating an age-old tradition of sustainable farming methods.

“And they’re just one example of regenerative agricultureβ€”a practice with ancient roots that recognizes nature as a dynamic, interconnected system. By implementing regenerative principles, we can aidβ€” not degradeβ€” the land that gives us food, while honoring those who preserved this transformative, traditional knowledge…”

regenerative farming

“Modern challenges such as soil degradation, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity underscore the urgency of adopting more regenerative practices. The wisdom of the Haudenosaunee, embodied in the Three Sisters, offers valuable insights into how we might reshape our agricultural systems to work with nature, rather than against it, to produce food in a way that heals the planet.”

passing the knowledge to younger generations
TIL from TED-Ed’s Dig Deeper: “The Haudenosaunee, or ‘people of the longhouse’ have been referred to as the Iriquois nation. The name ‘Iroquois’ is a French variant on a term for “snake,” and is considered by many to be a derogatory term.”

Watch these related videos next on TKSST:
β€’Β Hopi Dryland Farming: Growing corn with desert rainfall
β€’ The Secret History of Dirt, a smart soil explainer
β€’ Why is soil one of the most amazing things on Earth?
β€’Β The Soil Food Web, claymation by Maxwell Helmberger
β€’ The Future of Food: Can we create the β€œperfect” farm?
β€’Β Growing 500 edible plants in a forest
β€’Β The Maya Milpa Cycle, a sustainable forest gardening method

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