Seed Intelligence: Indigenous Perspectives and Our Collective Birthright

In October 2010, Flordemayo was in Los Angeles attending a conference. At break she returned to her room on the 23rd floor. Before lying down to rest her eyes, she noticed an emerald green glow on the wall. When she opened them again the light had taken up the entire wall and a vision unfolded. “There was a panoramic landscape and everything was emerald,” she said. “It was so beautiful that I said to myself, ‘I’m going into this light.’ I have absolute memory of walking in a field dialoguing with everything. I noticed a mountain to my right. Then everything began to change! At the top, it split and there was movement like an avalanche! The forest and everything in it came tumbling down—trees, animals, stones, water. It crossed the road below and I saw that all domestic life was being swept away! I thought, ‘I have to get to my cornfield!’ I was praying and running as fast as I could, and then I’m grabbing the yellow corn, the blue, the red, the black…and then I grabbed all the rainbow corn I could grab! I bundled all the corn I could carry up in my long skirt. But I couldn’t run fast enough! I heard a voice from above, ‘Flordemayo! What are you doing? The military is coming!’ I answered in a cry to the Universe, ‘It just doesn’t matter anymore!’ Then I was standing in the hotel room again facing the wall. The emerald light was gone. I had tears in my eyes. I fell back on my bed. I was devastated.”

Flordemayo

Grandmother Flordemayo
Photo credit: Linda Rettinger

As a young child, Flordemayo was recognized as a seer. By the age of four, she had already begun her training as a curandera espiritu, a healer through divine spirit, a gift inherited through long family lineage, originating from the Maya highlands of Central America. She is a member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, standing for peace and healing of the Mother Earth. When messages come strongly, Flordemayo knows to answer them—no matter the obstacles.

What is the timeliness of this vision?

Apab’yan Tew is an Ajq’ij, a Day Keeper, and spiritual guide of the sacred K’iche Maya tradition from the village of Nawalja’ in Sololá of the Guatemalan highlands. His ceremonial work most often takes place in caves, engaging with resident energies of the natural site and timing of the Tzolkin calendar in conjunction with needs of communities or individuals. Like Flordemayo, his gifts evolved from childhood until he ultimately answered the call through a series of difficult shamanic challenges.

Apab'yan Tew

Apab’yan Tew
Photo source: Apab’yan Tew

Apab’yan elaborates on the Maya worldview: “We cannot be who we must be without the land. Another principle is that the body we have is not really ours. It is lent from the Mother Earth herself. So if you create any kind of danger to your body, you are also hurting the Mother Earth. What the Earth produces and what we produce is part of the same cycle, the same system. We are not separated from the Earth—and the Earth is not to be thought of as just another provider of goods. The term that is used in the West is ‘natural resources’ as something to be taken, something to be transformed. For us, we don’t use this term. We use the term ‘elements of life.’ It is our life! It is not a resource.”

In Indigenous traditions, every aspect of life is integrated and sacred. This Maya spiritual leader is quite clear that to surpass a cycle creates imbalance. Nothing should be moved from its place in the Universe. His people think of the seed as a living feminine entity, not a commodity. There is a proper way to carry her, to talk to her, the Sky and the field in the act of sowing according to specific timing. This in itself is a ceremony, integration of a flow that already exists and must not be taken from those like himself who hold these ways close.

There are those who seek to eradicate the sacred ways.

Apab’yan talks about the Maya ways of respect: “It is our purpose not to take more than we can give back. But it is also our purpose not to change. We must not touch what is not ours. It is not ours from the beginning. It is ours to have a dialogue. The seeds talk to us. We have five seeds. Only one of the five is for us. One is for the Sky. One is for the Earth. One is for the brothers in the fields. Maybe there’s a crow that’s going to come. The last one is for anybody who needs it. In my harvesting, maybe I’ll have some extra seeds to give to someone or sell them. There’s no harvesting for commercial purposes. But we have extra if someone needs it. We are Corn Beings. So we must not even play with the seeds.”

He believes there is no current problem with GMO seed infiltration in the high altitude area of his village: “You don’t sell milk to a cow!” For the Guatemalan highlands, there’s not enough room for the politics of Monsanto. What the West calls “organic” these Maya farmers have been doing for eons—and the best selection has long ago been made. However, he sees a danger as any of his people become more influenced, perhaps by emigrating and then returning home, to set aside their ancient ways of living.

That same protection isn’t available to Native and heritage farmers in the US. Five years ago I sat in a conference session and heard a Zuni man sadly express the fear he held: the real possibility of GM seeds blowing into the fields that he and his ancestors had planted with their pure Native strain for hundreds of years. It was disheartening and outrageous.

If the spirits of Earth and Sky are no different than the seeds they sow, the food they eat, what their bodies are made of…then to tamper with any part is an outright act against religious freedom and quality of life, rights the US constitution is supposed to uphold. For giant agribusinesses to also attempt to spread their seed where people have few rights equates to preying upon those who have a voice but are ignored. When spiritual tradition falls apart, grounding dissolves; detrimental influences make additional in-roads; suffering takes over—a process proven over history. Spiritual pride is lost; ethnic groups are additionally marginalized.

A grassroots movement has sprung up.

Learn About GMOsPeople are starting to come together, much as in past times of threat or needed change. Coalitions are appearing like GMO-Free Prescott, a small, volunteer-run nonprofit organization in Prescott, Arizona specifically formed to educate and support everyone’s right to choose food and products that have not been genetically modified. Founder Shea Richland states, “I got involved due to health issues when I was leaving ‘no stone unturned’ to find answers. The more I learned, the more concerned I became. When the documentary Thrive was being shown in our area, I felt it was an opportune time to do more. So, GMO-Free Prescott was born. If people were walking what the Native people teach, then our organization wouldn’t be necessary.”

Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg, is known as an environmental activist. She is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline Native environmental groups. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation. Her organization offers a number of naturally derived products that may be found via Native Harvest online to help fund the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

Winona LaDuke Source: Native Harvest

Winona LaDuke
Source: Native Harvest

She shares this: “When I was a young woman, my father would listen to me patiently, with great compassion, as I explained to him the many environmental issues facing our community and the complexities of the world. His name was Sun Bear, or Vincent LaDuke. He used to tell me, ‘Winona, you are a smart young woman, but I don’t want to hear your philosophy unless you can grow corn.’

I remembered this for many years but was not as smart as he thought. It took me until the turn of the millennium to become a corn grower. I thought about this often and wondered about the corn varieties my ancestors in northern Minnesota would have grown. I began a quest, one of many. The first corn that came to me was a Bear Island Flint corn, eight to twelve inch, multicolored cobs. The seeds were gifted from Ricardo Salvador, then a professor at Iowa State University. He had found them in a seed bank. The corn came from an island in the middle of Leech Lake Reservation, where I later learned, after many interviews and much research, that our people often grew corn on islands, away from predators, in micro-climates surrounded by water. Ingenious. We began to grow. Then, I moved onto Manitoba White Flint, the northernmost varieties of the Ojibwe, grown about 100 miles north of Winnipeg.”

Winona notes the importance of growing Native seeds and seed saving: “Never a crop failure after all these years with this corn! It is hearty (with) twice the protein and half the calories of market corn. And it is resilient. (Through) frost, drought and high winds, it stays. We were the northernmost corn growers in the world. And yet, we had lost much of our corn and our seeds. So, we have grown that corn now for a decade. Again…resilient. Monsanto’s crops failed in 2012, but ours did not. We are grateful. That was the beginning. Today, we are growing an 800-year-old squash, found in an archeological dig in Wisconsin. And we are growing many other varieties. It is our hope to create a northern Anishinaabe seed bank.”

The vision that Flordemayo received was a strong message coming from the Creator to uphold the welfare of our interconnections. As she accepted what seemed like a monumental task, things quickly began to fall in place—as it so often does when a vision is true. Exactly the funds required to purchase the forty acres of land that came available near her home in Estancia, New Mexico appeared. She established the Seed Temple as a volunteer-run project under her nonprofit organization, The Path. Smaller donations came to excavate the underground seed vault, construct the classroom building that covers it, and to create its accompanying medicine circle and fire temple. Flordemayo said, “You can’t have plants without water. We need a place to go and pray…to hold the spirits of water and plants in prayer.”

Rainbow Corn

Rainbow Corn
Photo: Greg Schoen

Local volunteers and those from some distances come regularly to continue building and advise. Greg Schoen is one of them. He’s impassioned about seed preservation: “Crops are being stripped and ‘dumbed down,’ the diversity bred out of them. When we do this to the corn, we do this to ourselves.” He got his start as a seed saver in the mid-1980s receiving his original “Glass Gem” jewel-like kernels from Carl L. Barnes, a mixed blood man of Cherokee/Irish/Scots ancestry now in his eighties living near Liberal, Kansas. Over the years, Greg received other Native varieties from Carl, planted them himself and gifted them to such organizations as Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona.

“I think of corn as holding a knowledge, like a recordkeeper. Sometimes when Carl would grow corn in his fields, Native strains that had gone extinct would re-emerge. When Native people here lost the corn they carried, it’s like they lost the central point that anchored them to the land, like they lost their language. So, when Carl would reintroduce their ancestral corn to them, they would light up. It would be like you were wandering in the desert and your ancient scrolls were returned to you!”

Greg freely gifts baggies of “Glass Gem” seeds to anyone who wants them. In the coming year he will plant at the Sufi community near Silver City, New Mexico where he now lives. When asked what direction the Seed Temple would take, he said, “We’re starting to provide educational support to seed savers. There will also be a ‘seed lending library.’ Individuals can take portions of the seed stock of one of more items from the seed bank, with the agreement that they will grow out the seed according to proper growing practices, and return a portion of the seed produced to the seed bank. Those are just some of our plans.”

Flordemayo affirmed Greg’s statement and added, “The seed has a spirit, but it doesn’t have a voice. We are giving the seeds a voice! We are welcoming Native and heritage seeds from growers. The only restriction is that the seeds are organically grown; and we know where they came from and who is growing them. So we need to have documentation in receiving them.”

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is the volunteer-run nonprofit I founded to help preserve Indigenous wisdom traditions. We see the Native seed issue as an integral aspect of Indigenous spiritual traditions and are helping to support the Seed Temple. More is still to be done in the way of construction and obtaining all things necessary to start up and maintain. One way Flordemayo plans to help fund the project is through classes in the growing and use of medicinal herbs, sacred bathing, and vision and dream work. She has turned the Hogan, located next to the seed vault, into the Temple of the Golden Child, which will be used for this purpose.

More and more independent seed saving operations are being established in pockets around the globe. Greg Schoen continues to quietly do what he can to preserve our heritage by sharing his passion, experiences and seeds with others on a similar track. Shea Richland believes so strongly in our birthright for health and well-being that she reluctantly stepped into the public eye to form GMO-Free Prescott and educate regarding our choices. Winona LaDuke works at the national level through organized environmental activism. Flordemayo answered a vision. Apab’yan Tew performs ceremonies for the well-being of the planet in the dark recesses of caves.

It takes all of us, each bringing our own way, in the face of such forces that would act against us, to support and maintain our collective birthright—and succeed.

***

This article is being incorporated into the Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) Farming Curriculum that will be part of the Tribal Community Colleges in the region where Honor the Earth Foundation is active.

***

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is sponsoring Grandmother Flordemayo and seed savers Greg Schoen and Dianna Henry for events on January 31-February 1, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. The proceeds from ticket sales go to support the seed saving project founded by Grandmother Flordemayo. For information and to purchase tickets, please go here.

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Sources:

Interviews with Flordemayo, October 17, 2012 and February 1, 2013.

Interviews with Greg Schoen, October 17, 2012 and February 8, 2013.

Interview with Apab’yan Tew, November 6, 2012.

Interview with Winona LaDuke, November 27, 2012.

Interviews with Shea Richland, November 9, 2012 and January 2, 2013.

Categories: cultural interests, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Seed Intelligence: Indigenous Perspectives and Our Collective Birthright

  1. Pingback: When the Fire Speaks | The Lifepath Dialogues

  2. “His people think of the seed as a living feminine entity, not a commodity. There is a proper way to carry her, to talk to her, the Sky and the field in the act of sowing according to specific timing. This in itself is a ceremony, integration of a flow that already exists and must not be taken from those like himself who hold these ways close… ” Read more… xoxoxo

  3. Thank you, Carla,
    Sharing… xoxoxo

  4. Reblogged this on For the Earth Blog and commented:
    “His people think of the seed as a living feminine entity, not a commodity. There is a proper way to carry her, to talk to her, the Sky and the field in the act of sowing according to specific timing. This in itself is a ceremony, integration of a flow that already exists and must not be taken from those like himself who hold these ways close… ” Read more… xoxoxo

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