Seed Keeper's Harvest
Seed Keeper's Harvest
By: Rowen White
The seeds. The place of new beginnings, where cycles begin and end and rebirth again.
Within these pages, the seeds will sit at the center; we will journey with them, and sit at the grand loom of time as we see our collective human experience come alive in story from the perspective of the seeds themselves.
These seeds are the diverse expression of life itself, ever hopeful, renewing, and sustaining.
The seeds are asking to be spoken for.
This place will be fertile soil where seedsongs are sung;
Imagine that it is an earthy and cracked vessel, an ancient collective seed pot;
hand shaped by an eternal chain of seed keepers of all colors, stretching back through the ages. Teardrop shaped squash seeds, speckled corn seeds, shiny tigers eye beans seeds passing from one hand to another, weaving past together with present and future and into our hands comes the gift of a diverse and colorful tapestry of sustenance that will grace the dinner table and feed not only our bodies but our spirits, hopes and dreams.
I invite you to walk this path, to find those tiny little seeds inside your heart that yearn to be re-kindled.
All across Turtle Island we are seeing a great resurgence of tribes building healthy and resilient food systems as a cornerstone to cultural and ecological renewal programs, as well as a means to reclaim indigenous economies and true economic and political sovereignty. If a community is to be truly sovereign and free from colonizing forces, they must be able to feed and nourish themselves with culturally appropriate foods. Food and seed sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. This is the true foundation for the healing from the violent disruption of culture and communities due to colonization and globalization. Removed from their lands and forced to assimilate into Western culture, many native people no longer live in their traditional territories nor do they eat their traditional foods. Many processed and introduced foods have become the staple, and nutritional-related diseases such as Type II diabetes and heart disease have become epidemics.
Recently we have launched our Indigenous SeedKeepers Network. The mission of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network is to nourish and assist the growing Seed Sovereignty Movement across Turtle Island. As a national network, we leverage resources and cultivate solidarity and communication within the matrix of regional grass-roots tribal seed sovereignty projects. We accomplish this mission by providing educational resources, mentorship training, outreach and advocacy support on seed policy issues, and organizing national and regional events and convenings to connect many communities who are engaging in this vital work. We aim to create a collaborative framework and declaration for ethical seed stewardship and indigenous seed guidelines for tribal communities to guide them as they protect their seeds from patenting and bio-piracy. We support the creation of solutions oriented programs for adaptive resilient seed systems within tribal communities to enhance the creative capacity to continue to evolve as the face of our Mother Earth changes.
ISKN is a shade tree of support to the essential work of regional and tribal seed initiatives , as we offer a diverse array of resources aimed at nourishing and supporting a vibrant indigenous seed movement, as a compliment to the growing Food Sovereignty movement within Indian country. In honor of the grand lineage of Seedkeepers who have faithfully passed down seeds for our nourishment, we make restored commitment to care for these precious seeds for those yet to come.
We are working with tribal communities in collaboration with other non-profit organizations to revitalize native food systems as well as the rich cultural knowledge and practices that go with traditional food ways.
We have organized and hosted numerous Indigenous Seed Keeper trainings, including a large Indigenous Seed Keeper Summit in May of 2014, where we had over 30 participants from many tribal communities all over the country, including Dakota, Lakota, Anishinaabe, Oneida, and Chippewa and Umatilla nations. The Seed Keepers trainings are focused on empowering and equipping indigenous leaders with the tools and knowledge on how to re-integrate seed stewardship back into their communities and create sustainable projects and programs that focus on tribal seed sovereignty. We offer facilitation and mentorship, but aim to craft the trainings so that they are highlighting the inherant leaders and mentors that already exist in these communities, and bring people together to engage in powerful dialogue about the restoration of traditional food and seedways.
In an indigenous ecology of education, we combine practical hands on skillbuilding with thoughtful conversations around policy, health and healing, cultural memory, and indigenous economies.
I am continually amazed by the resilience of our indigenous communities, as we move to a place of renewal, restoration, and abundance with our health and culture. Re-establishing ancient relationships in our hearts and minds. There are so many positive implications of this Seed Keeper gathering in relation to agricultural development, cultural renewal, and collective health goals within the many tribal nations that were represented.
Many tangible outcomes and new projects have begun to sprout as a result of these Seed Keepers gatherings. A group in the Great Lakes region is establishing a Intertribal Seed Alliance, which will help support indigenous seed efforts in the Great Lakes region and beyond. Also, many committed to be a part of a working group to create a collaborative framework and declaration for ethical seed stewardship and indigenous seed guidelines for tribal communities to adopt to protect their seeds from patenting and bio-piracy.
Despite the scorched earth tactics of countless colonial and imperial forces to try and starve us into submission and cultural amnesia, many of our people and seeds survived; like seeds from dark rich earth we sprout once again, nourishing today dreams of hope and renewal of a new peaceful existence where children know no hunger and our communities are healthy in mind, body and spirit once again. …
These Seed Keeper trainings are an honoring song for our collective and ancient cultural memories that still resonate in our blood and bones and for these time honored agreements we have made with the plants who nourish us: we will take care of you and you will take care of us. Together with our stories, our voices, our visions and our presence, we weave a basket together to hold all the seeds of hope that nourish….We weave a vessel inside our hearts that makes the ancestors rejoice, one that holds the stories of how we survived with hope in our hearts and seeds in our pockets. We are still here. We are still vibrant. We are indigenous families with beautifully sustainable ways of living and nourishing our communities. These gatherings and workshops are a story of healing through many generations.
I am honored to be invited to various tribal communities to help facilitate conversations to draft a roadmap on how to cultivate healthy resilient traditional food and seed ways. I am continually humbled by the circle of bright minds who continue to come together with good mind and heart to take care of our precious collective inheritance of seeds, traditional knowledge for the children of this Earth. So grateful for this path that expands my heart and teaches me so much, and brings me into good company with true indigenous visionaries.
Some of the potent questions that come up in dialogue from these :
What ways in your community are you supporting seed savers and seed keepers?
How do we value and support the work of these people in our community, and how do we make a community seed resource that is sustainable?
Can we envision the Seed Commons, and coordinate collaborative efforts to care and protect for our seeds that is in right relationship to our indigenous cosmology?
How do we recreate an economy that doesn’t treat seeds as objects but as living breathing relatives?
There are always many powerful stories and answers to these questions from our spirited indigenous leaders that participate. We take the time to strategize and outlines action plans on reviving seed stewardship programs, identifying both the challenges and assets that each community has in relation to sustainable seed programs. Overall, we see the role of seed stewardship as a powerful mechanism for cultural renewal.
I recently read this sentiment of Martîn Prechtel, which embodied the spirit of this circle of Seed Keepers: “In a culture with open faces and hearts to match, it takes a lot of maturity and courage for a people to keep their cultural vision alive under a reign of imposed shame.”
What an act of courage for our ancestors to keep the seeds protected and safe in the face of violent transitions, relocations, assimilations, and war. What an act of courage to think creatively and proactively in the face of disease, and look to food, agriculture and seeds as a vessel for our collective healing and transformation. What an act of courage to plant a seed and save it again for future generations.
Each one of us Seed Keepers, and the communities we come from, has chosen to take the path of the survivor. Just like our seeds, we have overcome so much adversity.
This is a story of healing through many generations.
A great-great-grand-daughter who is allowed to speak her language,
This is the story of a mother who sings the songs of the sacred corn to her children.
This is the story of children being proud of who they are, who they come from.
This is the story of my great-great-grandmothers dreams and wishes coming to life,
In the beat of the water drum and the seeds of the rattle.
This is the story of intergenerational resilience coming alive to dance into another day.