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Strawberry Moon

Davis Dunavin
Native storyteller Darlene Kascak tells a tale at the Institute for American Indian Studies.

Dozens of indigenous tribes once lived in the Northeast. And there are places that still share their music, storytelling and agricultural traditions. In Washington, Connecticut, a group of native people celebrate the festival of the Strawberry Moon in mid-June.

It’s not called that because the moon looks like a strawberry. It’s actually the traditional time for the strawberry harvest in many Native cultures.

The Institute for American Indian Studies Museum in Washington keeps the tradition alive. This small museum was built in the 1970s on the site of an archaeological excavation. Researchers found a campsite with dozens of artifacts, like arrowheads and pottery, dating back more than 10,000 years.

“It was the first time they had evidence there were native people that long ago,” said Darlene Kascak. She’s a member of the Schaghticoke tribal nation, one of five tribes in Connecticut. She’s also a traditional Native American storyteller. Kascak said tribes in the Northeast measured the passage of time by the moon cycle. Each moon had a name and a significance.

“The Strawberry Moon signifies when the first of the berry fruits is going to be ready for picking,” she said. “So for us it’s a Thanksgiving celebration. Always honoring Mother Earth and the gifts that are provided to us.”

Kascak said strawberries have a special place in the harvest calendar.

“They’re known as the heart berry,” she says. “There are traditional stories about strawberries and how they came to be. They teach us about love, they teach us about friendship.”

One story tells of the first man and woman. The woman left her husband after a fight. Along the way she found some strawberries and while eating them remembered how much she loved her husband.

Lots of Native American festivals are based around harvest moons, not just strawberries. Kascak said the festivals honor the ways various fruits and vegetables work together to make the land good to farm.

“Corn takes nitrogen out of the soil, green beans put nitrogen back in,” she says. “Pumpkins, gourds, squash. Big leaves keep weeds down, keep moisture in the soil. So things were in harmony. Lot different than the way that we live today.”

The Institute tries to teach people about Native traditions in new ways. They grow vegetables and herbs in their gardens, and continue to share stories – like the one about the bright red berry shaped like a heart.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.