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Bulletin n°16

Editorial Sr Marie-Reine Gauthier, General Councillor

The Three Sisters(1): a metaphor in interdependence and reciprocity

Over the past year, our nightly news have been raising our awareness of the challenges facing farmers in the context of climate change, and the urgent need to think about farming in a different way. What if we were to contemplate how different plant species interact with each other? Perhaps we would discover a wisdom for human life. Robin Wall Kimmerer recounts this wisdom discovered by the First Nations of America. Plants tell a story,” she says, “not by what they say but by what they do. So it is with three plants, known as the Three Sisters: maize, beans and squash, which nourish people, the earth and the imagination, showing us how we might live together.

The Three Sisters planted together, when they grow, teach us a lesson in reciprocity. The corn, with its rigid stalk that shoots skywards, provides support for the bean plant, allowing it to extend its vine towards the sun. In turn, the squash forms large leaves, like umbrellas, which discourage caterpillars from attacking the bean plant, and which retain the moisture preventing other plants from growing. The roots of all three plants provide each other with what they need to grow, be productive and stay in the ground.

The metaphor of the Three Sisters teaches us that the most important knowledge is that of one’s unique gift and how to use it in the world. Individuality is cherished and nurtured, because for the whole to flourish, each of us must be strong in our identity and carry our gifts with conviction, so that we can share them with others. These three plants are a visible manifestation of what a community can become when its members understand and share their gifts. Let’s use our gifts to care for each other, work together and all will be nourished.

There’s a 4th partner in the Three Sisters garden: the gardener. We are the gardeners who clear the land, sow it, remove the weeds, harvest the fruit, save the seeds over the winter and replant them in the spring. We are the midwives of their gift. We cannot live without them, and it is just as true that they cannot live without us. We also belong to reciprocity. They cannot fulfil their responsibilities without us fulfilling ours. The stalk of the corn, the leaf of the squash and the root of the bean without a word embody the knowledge of relationship. When we stand together, a whole emerges that transcends the individual. Every gift is multiplied in relationship.

In this time of Chapter, may each of us discover her distinctive gift, offer it in reciprocity and allow the Body, we form, to become food for the world.


(1) Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, Milkweed editions 2013, Canada.