Posted By Jamie K Oxendine November 17th, 2011 Last Updated on: January 26th, 2012


By Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek


Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation

Long before White Contact to the “New World” the Native Americans had many kinds of celebrations for the four seasons.  One of the most celebrated for the Eastern Woodland Culture was that of Harvest Time.  This festival was mainly indigenous to the Eastern Woodlands because of their strong agricultural base. Of course these celebrations took place in Autumn but their actual time varied from place to place and was mainly dependent on the window of harvest time before the last hard killing frost.
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In the North East and Great Lakes the Harvest Time began in what is now late August and lasted up to October and November.  In the South East the Harvest Time began in August and could last into December.

 This was a glorious time of harvesting and gathering such things as:



Birch Bark




Corn Native American Historical Harvest Gathering














Pond Grass







Sweet Potatoes



Wild Rice


And yes many of the “food stuffs” in this list are actually indigenous to the New World and only grew in the New World.  Many were taken back to Europe, Asia and Africa by the White Man after contact and over time became staples for those Continents.

As much food as possible was sun dried and smoked dried and hung in lodges as well as buried in food stores for the coming long winter.

These times also included work on villages and homes getting them prepared for the coming winter.  This was the perfect time to do any repair work on wigwams and longhouses.  The last bit of warm weather was a good time to collect any samplings still full of tree sap that could be very pliable for repairing sections of lodges and for bending to shape for future use.  Pond grass, cattails and bark was heavily harvested and stored in lodges to be worked on during the cold winter months.  Cattails, plant down, feather down and moss were collected for insulation in both lodges and clothing. 

During the height of harvesting and gathering there would be great celebrations of thanks with music, song, dance, gifting and feasting.  The general celebrations varied but often lasted anywhere from 4 to 7 days and maybe even longer.  The rest of the time was used working hard and long to prepare for the coming winter.

Afterwards, the people of the North East and Great Lakes drew in for a long hard and often bitter winter.  Only the Tribes in the South East had more celebrations that coincided with the warmer climate.  They could count on certain food stuffs and other needed natural materials to still be collectable throughout the winter months with their milder winter.
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Home » Native American Articles » Food » THE NATIVE AMERICAN HARVEST GATHERING

About Jamie K Oxendine

Jamie K. Oxendine, of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is the Native American Liaison and Education Consultant for Ohio University in Athens. Ohio. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo teaching “Indians of North America” and at Lourdes University teaching “Native American Culture” for the Lifelong Learning Center. A frequent speaker on Native American topics, he serves as the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation in Ohio. As a recording artist, he was three times been nominated for a NAMMY (Native American Music Award).

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Rick Joy

I am a White Man. I could have lived like this, in the cold country, just fine, right alongside and with the Natives of that region and been quite content.

Julie M. Finch

I watched a video interview with Oren Lyons, Turtle Clan, Onondaga, Haudenosaunee (sp?) It took place at the Prairie Knights Lodge on Standing Rock, N.D. It is on the website of Indian Country… I was very moved by many things he sad. One thing he mentioned was gratefulness, their harvest ceremonies. I suddenly realized it was the First Nations of Massachusetts who invited the Caucasian new arrivals at Plymouth to a harvest meal. The gratitude for all things, animal, vegetable, etc. seems to me such a spiritual and traditional part of Native life and culture and prayer.
Am I right? Thank you for this interesting article.
ps I spent four days in October at Sacred Stone Camp and part of it at Oceti Sakowin, where I was so moved by the prayer ceremonies at sunrise.

Adam Klein

Glad for this page on the day of White American Thanksgiving as I was looking for some First Nations history about harvest gatherings. I would like to suggest that another of the foods that would have been collected for these feasts would have been American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, which would have been more abundant than acorns until the outbreak of an Asian fungus around 1910 all but wiped out these trees across the eastern USA, has been absent from anyone’s menu. Happily, a group of humans has been long working on breeding a resistant variety of this great tree and it may soon retake its dominant place in the forests of eastern North America. Cheers

Shanna Cuellar

That is so so interesting, I wonder tho how one would obtain those trees ? Cause I believe that as many of them trees that could be replaced should be, it must have been a great loss to Mother Nature to have her trees destroyed by disease to the point they have almost become extinct , I’m sure they have been greatly missed , It would be so nice to be able to harvest from them once again, thank you

Molly LaBadie

I am intrigued by the Native American’s collecting and harvesting enough food for their entire nation, or tribe, or family to last the entire winter months. If the winters were as harsh as they are now in the great lakes region that must have been a very difficult task to undertake. The Native American’s must have been phenomenal at collecting the right amount and distributing it accordingly.

Alyssandra Schwind

This was a very good read! It is interesting to learn about how the Native Americans prepared for the winter and how the fall was the major aspect of preparing for what was lying ahead.

Gary Jeffrey

So astounding to know that literally almost everything was put to use in some way, shape, or form. There were things listed that I wasn’t sure had a practical use until I continued to read. So interesting to know the practicality of everything!

Nate Zona

I love harvest celebrations! My garden is full and it’s time to feast 🙂
Thanks for writing about this, it’s cool to see how life once was in these parts.

Douglas Spirit Bear Neely

Its amazing to me how they knew to prepare certain foods certain ways. I guess trial and error explains of a lot it. It seems like Native Americans were always thinking ahead, the original “Boy Scouts” “Be prepared”!

Mark Chase

This was yet another insightful and informative posting looking into the lives of Native Americans. The tribes of the Northeast and Southeast certainly knew how to prepare far in advance for such a harsh time of the year. We can still learn a lot from the indigenous peoples of the past.

Alvelia Farmer

I think the way the Native Americans prepared for the winter was very responsible. Not only that, but they had fun while they did it! Win-Win situation all the way around. Thanks for sharing this.

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