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Happy Native American New Year Meals

Updated on December 14, 2012

Beans on New Years

The Three Sisters wish you a Happy New Year!

The unfamiliar may wonder whose these ladies are, but we know them to be Corn, Beans, and Squash. They are the foundation foods of many Native American groups since thousands of years ago and are still enjoyed today.

The New Year celebration for numerous Native American nations across the US includes the traditions of the Bean Planting Festival in which people plant beans at the beginning of the year to honor the traditional way of life and to give thanks for the three sisters and other foods. Thanksgiving, in that way, really extends year round with each festival, each harvest, and each hunt.

A Different New Year's Date

In US Indigenous cultures, we frequently New Year's at the end of January or first part of February, based on constellations and moon phases that cue people to plant. Some of the traditional festivals include:

Iroquois Planting Festival

When the Big Dipper is directly overhead in the heavens at night, one waits for the next New Moon to arrive. This is the beginning of the Spiritual New Year for the Six Nations. Next, one counts 5 new days into the new year and then plants and celebrates a 9-day festival.

Bean Sprout Festival (Powamu)

In the great Southwest, in Arizona among Hopi Nation and some other groups, the planting honors the ancestral spirits that have come back again for the first six months of the year to bring health and good rains for the nations's crops. Bean planting honors them in either l;ate Janurary or early February.

Sacagawea Cultivating the Three Sisters

The reverse side of the Sacagawea $1 issued for Native American New Year 2009 with the National Museum of the American Indian. (pubic domain)
The reverse side of the Sacagawea $1 issued for Native American New Year 2009 with the National Museum of the American Indian. (pubic domain)

Story of the Three Sisters

The story of the three sisters belongs to the Iroquois Confederacy, who received the story while cultivating their staple foods.

The Three Sisters can thrive only when they stay together. Otherwise, they will lose spirit and give forth only a mediocre harvest - less product, less flavorful, and less nutritious. They will deplete the land and reduce food production even more. They must grow in fellowship and combine their spiritual strength in order to feed the land and the people. We must take care of the Earth in this way.

In each mound of earth in the Iroquois garden, we plant corn in the center, beans around the corn seed, and father out, the squash.

Sister Corn rises first, creating a strong stock for support of her sisters.

Sister Beans rises next in creation, able to twine herself around Sister Corn. No stakes or strings are necessary. It is all natural.

Sister Squash awakes last from her seeds and is gently shaded by Sistters Corn and Beans.

After the thanks is given and the harvest of the Three Sisters completed, their stalks, leaves, and vines go back to the Earth to nourish her for the next year.

The people are fed and Earth ireplenished with honor. All is well.

Thus, we see that interplanting these particular three vegetables in the same garden mounds is very smart. It creates a sustainable system of agriculture that results in consistent, rich soil fertility and a healthy diet.

You can do the same thing in your backyard garden at home! Try a Three Sisters Garden.

A Three Sisters Garden

CC licenses 2.0
CC licenses 2.0 | Source

A Three Sisters Salad


  • 1 Cup fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels 
  • 2 Cups cooked pinto beans, cooled - save the water for gravy or soup
  • 2 Cups cooked black beans, cooled - save water for soup or gravy
  • 1 Cup lightly cooked sliced yellow squash
  • 2 Large sweet onions, sliced thin
  • 1 Green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 Cloves garlic, peeled and chopped


  • 1/2 Cup honey
  • 1/2 Cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Cup fresh oregano, chopped (3 tsp dried)
  • 1/3 Cup olive oil


  • In a large mixing bowl, place all of the first 8 ingredients and toss.
  • In a medium sixed bowl, place remaining ingredients, except olive oil. Blend.
  • Add olive oil to seasonings, mix, and pour over the salad.
  • Toss well, cover, and refrigerate to chill before serving.

Iroquois near NY reservation in 1914. (Click to enlarge.)
Iroquois near NY reservation in 1914. (Click to enlarge.)

Three Sisters Across America

Corn, Bean and Squash Casserole

Serves 6 or 8

Bottom and Topping Layer (Polenta)

  • 4.5 Cups water
  • 1.5 Cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp. ground red peper or chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Vegetable Layer

  • 1/2 Cup water
  • Pastry Brush
  • 8xll casserole dish
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 Cup of chopped onion, half each red and white
  • 1 Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 Pound yellow squash, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 Can (14-16 oz) diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp cilantro
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Can lima or pinto beans, drained and rinsed - keep the juice for gravy
  • 1 Cup fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels, thawed


  • Mix cornmeal, chili powder or ground red pepper, salt, and 4.5 Cups water in double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pot of boiling water.
  • Cook the cornmeal polenta 40 minutes until stiff. Set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp EVOO over medium heat in a pot.
  • Add in chopped onions and cook and stir until soft.
  • Add bell pepper and cook 3-5 5 minutes, untell pepper begins to soften.
  • Add squash, tomatoes, garlic, coriander, cumin, and cilantro. Mix well.
  • Cook 5 minutes and add 1/2 Cup water and salt.
  • Bring the pot to the boil and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Simmer the pot 15 minutes until squash is fork tender.
  • Add beans and corn and cook 5-7 minutes until thickened.
  • Cooking spray an 8x11-inch casserole dish.
  • Place 2 Cups topping evenly over the bottom of the casserole.
  • Scoop the vegetable mixture over topping.
  • Scoop the rest of the topping smoothly over the topof the vegetables.
  • With a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the polenta into 6 or 8 sections.
  • Brush the scored topping with 1 Tbsp EVOO.
  • Bake 30 minutes or until set and golden brown.


Iroquois Confederacy members.
Iroquois Confederacy members.

Comments and Additions

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    • profile image


      10 years ago

      An interesting read. Thanks for posting.

    • dhawkins11 profile image


      11 years ago

      Very great hub. I love corn bread and although I am not too sure I love to think that native Americans had something to do with it's creation. That three sisters garden looks very healthy! Wish mine was like that each year.

    • Chris EastMan profile image

      Chris EastMan 

      11 years ago

      Dear what a beautiful hubs you have , as i red few and waiting for yours up coming hubs. Have a nice day !

    • profile image

      american english 

      11 years ago

      Well, I am an English learner and I think I must try it in order to be closer to American culture :)

      Thanks for recipes.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Powerful moment!

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      11 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      I was recently married by a minister who performed burning cedar rites for us, at a Native site called Aztalan, here in Wisconsin. It is the northern most outpost of the Cahokia tribe, whose larger settlement I believe, was near St. Louis. There are earthen tribal pyramids there. When our minister called upon the winds of the earth, the wind picked up so as to blow my bride's hair everywhere and she had to speak up so the party could hear her words, it was a very spiritual moment.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Congratulations, Ben!

      And I'm happy to have your reading and bookmarking this Hub. I'm always looking for more information about Native Americans, too.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      11 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Loved it, thanks! I have a lost Native American heritage and I'm always, always, always searching for a new path of light on my history. Congratulation Ms. Inglish, this is the first article from HubPages that I've bookmarked. Also, thanks for including me in your HubNugget Hub, I'm completely honored.

      Na Astrovia!


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thank you Laura!

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 

      11 years ago from South Africa

      Pity the agriculturists did not follow the three sisters recipe for sustainability instead of changing to artificial nitrogen!

      Very interesting hub.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @Jen - I'm glad you're reading. Native American history sometimes gets shoved into the background. Casinos are evident to folks, but sometimes not much else.

      @Princessa - Thanks very much. The story of the three sisters is amazing, especially since it is sustainable agriculture from many centuries ago, while to day we fight to achieve sustainability.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      11 years ago from France

      I love to read your hubs about Native Americans, I find them fascinating and intriguing. I feel lucky to learn a little bit about their culture every time you write about them.

    • wyanjen profile image

      Jen King 

      11 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

      Hello Patty.

      Thanks for the recipe, and also for the links.

      I've got lots of reading to do! I'm fascinated with Native American history. I've found a treasure trove here :-)


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Well, the food's good, anyway, Don! With 1000s of tribes and communities in North America along, there's SO much to find out yet. It's fun. Thanks for your kind words!

    • dusanotes profile image


      11 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Patty, what an interesting Hub! I doubt this much information on the Indians has ever been a Hub, let alone in a blog like this with your wonderful use of recipes and such. Keep up the good work. Don White

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Great! I added some historic links to help.

      Thanks for the comments, BookFlame and Tammy!

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 

      11 years ago

      Hi my son is 8...he loves history...I am going to bookmark this....this will be a great project for us. Thanks

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      What an interesting angle to take on New Year's meals. Fascinating


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