One of the most important gestures of solidarity that non-Indigenous lovers of seeds can offer to Indigenous food sovereignty leaders, farmers and gardeners is this: to give heart-felt support to Indigenous seeds keepers in their community efforts toward food, land and water sovereignty, self-determination, and reconciliation.
Any person, non-profit, museum, botanical garden, university or government agency that has grown these seeds in the past, or funded efforts to keep them alive should consider turning their efforts toward assisting Indigenous led rematriations of “displaced” seeds. They should also consider ways to appropriately engage with Indigenous communities in their needs for financial reparation from businesses, breeders, etc that have profited, and return of lands and water key to food sovereignty.
I am writing this to make known to friends and colleagues my own changes in perspective that have emerged from my decades of contact with and affection for Indigenous seed activists. I do not wish to criticize or condemn any individual, agency, business, or organization for their past activities.
Personally, I am offering my full and unconditional support to the Indigenous seed keepers I know, for I find them to be among the most spirited, caring, and clear-headed people I have ever met.
I fully trust and respect their capacity to lead seed re-matriation efforts with good hearts. I understand that distinctive Indigenous communities, clans, or tribal governments may select different means for having seeds returned to their original caretakers and for guiding any potential reparations as they see fit.I have complete confidence that their sense of restorative justice can help heal (not deepen) historic wounds and conflicts. Where they lead, I am willing to be among those who follow.
By now, we should all know that food crop seeds are not just parts of nature, but richly embedded in culture as well. They have always been more than commodities or calories. I heard as much when I was younger from the likes of now-deceased elders such as Carl “White Eagle” Barnes, Uncle Jerry Konanui, John Mohawk, and Fred and Alice Kabotie. I echoed conversations with some of them in 1979 when I went before a U.S. Congressional committee to express opposition to the patenting or legal “enclosure” of any seeds. (I did so to give “voice” to the plants, but nearly lost my job by doing so!)
What has changed since that time is the flourishing of Indigenous Seed and Food Sovereignty movements led by big-hearted and brilliant Indigenous “germinators” such as Rowan White, Lilian Hill, Clayton Brascoupe, Winona LaDuke, Melissa Nelson, Feather Smith, Michael Kotutwa Johnson, and others too numerous to name.
The alliances they have formed deserve not only our support, but full deference to their efforts, ethics, and largess. They are clearly in the lead of initiatives that may correct past flaws, heal wounds, and build broader respect for the competencies and concerns within Native Nations. It may be that the phrase “seed saving” is so fraught with evangelistic or paternalistic connotations that we now need other terms to discuss these traditional practices, such as Robin Kimmerer’s reciprocal restoration.
I am releasing this public statement as a prayer for healing, and as a blessing of their laudable efforts.
Gary Paul Nabhan aka Brother Coyote, OEF