American Culture: Native American Glass Gem Corn

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw an image of glass gem corn. It’s a rainbow-colored heirloom corn with a jewel appearance, and it’s stunning!

This ancestral variety of corn was rediscovered in 2012 by an Oklahoma farmer named Carl “White Eagle” Barnes, who was half Cherokee. In a quest to connect with his Cherokee roots, he found seeds that matched up with traditional corns that had been lost to various Native tribes, and he began growing the older, traditional varieties. (The Native American culture places great importance on seeds, planting ceremonies, harvesting, and honoring seeds.)

Barnes isolated different types of corn and replanted those from particularly colorful cobs. A mix of Cherokee, Osage, and Pawnee varieties produced the first multicolored rainbow cobs. 

Carl Barnes, who died in 2016, made it possible for many Native tribes to recover and reunite with their sacred seeds, which helped in the reclaiming of their cultural and spiritual identities. 

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