Seed Sovereignty

“… From a traditional perspective, these seeds encompass more than just characteristics. They are sacred
heirlooms, which these seeds hold cultural and historical memory that is a vital part of traditional culture and
history. A cultural community that persists in its farming traditions does not simply carry on indigenous
stock because of economic justifications. These seeds become symbols, reflections of the peoples own spiritual
and aesthetic identity and that of the land that shapes them. ..”

Rowen White, Haudenausaunee



Indigenous Nations of the Great Lakes region have suffered from the devastating loss of ancient agricultural traditions. Europeans identified tribes in this region as ‘hunters and gatherers’ and discarded the tremendous agricultural traditions of northern peoples. While hunting and gathering were critical aspects of Ojibwe, Dakota, Odawa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Potawatami, Menominee and other regional tribes, farming was a central aspect of
a northern way of life. So little is known and so much must be recreated in order to tell the full story of tribal agricultural life, crop diversity and cultivation practices in this region.

The northern boreal forest, the tall grass prairie and the eastern deciduous forest comprise the three ecosystems of the Great Lakes region. Each of these eco-niches converge in Minnesota. These ecosystems provided abundant wild foods, from a wide variety of berries and nuts to an array of edible flowers, herbs, fungi and root vegetables. Native peoples tended to these plants with care, and assisted in their growth through songs, ceremonies and stewardship to ensure successful harvests. In addition, tribes adapted and domesticated wild plants over centuries. Agriculture required a much greater effort than gathering, but the net result was a dependable large food source.

The loss of traditional foods and food knowledge has had a devastating impact on Native communities, creating a situation of industrial food dependence and ill-health. Today, very few Native people farm on the White Earth reservation. And one third of the service population at Indian Health Service has diabetes. The restoration of traditional foods could dramatically transform the current obesity and diabetes epidemic in Native communities, and provide a foundation for food security in our communities.
Indigenous food survival is linked with human survival. Indigenous foods and food systems will revive the Indigenous people’s health. The revival of health is shown among the Pima in Arizona and Indigenous Hawaiian people who made significant health improvements when they returned to their traditional diets.


It took over 10,000 years to create much of the world’s agricultural genetic diversity.  We may lose most of that in one generation.  As late as 1900, there were more than 1,500 different cultivated varieties.  Today, 90% of the world’s nutrition is provided by only 30
different food crops.  Four of which – wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans – provide 75% of our calories. The ten most profitable seed companies control more than 50% of the world’s seed sales. Monsanto dominates seed sales with 31% of beans, 38% cucumbers, 34% hot pepper, 29% sweet pepper, 23% tomato and 25% onion.

Ecological diversity is absent from our modern industrial agribusiness system.  This diversity helps strengthen soil health, disease and insect resistance, nutrition, flavor, taste and more.  With more varieties growing side by side, plants form symbiotic relationships. Garlic and onion is good for detracting pests. Carrots have a deep root to pull water and lettuce’s roots are shallow and can be planted next to a root vegetable.


The ecology of our planet has become threatened by “mono-cropping” and super-hybrids. Genetically Modified seeds are becoming more and more available. One procedure in creating a GMO variety of vegetable includes genetic engineering; The crossing chromosomes with others from different plant and animal kingdoms. Another GMO procedure is mutagenesis, using radiation and chemicals to attract traits and stabilize genetics. Common GMO vegetables include;
sugar cane,

Relying on one primary source of genetically uniform seed is unsustainable.  Securing genetic quality and heritage is a community responsibility and it begins at the local level. We are fighting for labeling GMO food products and to protect our seed from getting
contaminated with GMO pollen from getting into our seeds as best we can. Also we want to label GMO seeds to know so we can choose whether or not to eat it.


Indigenous Corn Varieties are largely endangered, yet contain very significant potential for future sustainability. Today, less than 20,000 Native families in the United States farm and only a small percentage of these grow the heirloom crops of our ancestors. Traditional cultural knowledge of ecosystems, agriculture, food preparation, feasting and medicines are the key to the integrity of our culture, and they are essential to the protection of biodiversity, health and land stewardship.

Beginning five years ago, we were able to secure a handful of Bear Island Flint Corn from a seed repository, and since that time have worked to restore that variety- today we have corn fields of the Bear Island Flint corn. We also hope to restore other corn varieties to our people.

Studies by the University of Minnesota on the traditional foods grown in the tribal gardens found the following:

* Hominy corn is high in carbohydrates and protein. One serving of hominy yields 47% of the DRV for fiber and 33% of the B vitamin Thiamine and has half the calories of market corn.

* Arikara squash has l3% of the DRV for fiber, 64% of the DRV for vitamin A,and half the calories and double the calcium and magnesium of the market equivalent.

* Potawatomi lima beans are low in fat, and high in carbohydrates and protein. B vitamins are found in abundance, including thiamine, pantothenic acid, niacin and B6. Potawatomi lima beans also provide 24 grams of fiber per serving, and 2l times the anti- oxidants found in market beans.

In an article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food (10:2 [2007]) Kwon, et al. of the University of Massachusetts report that in vitro studies show that upon digestion, corn, beans, and squash perform “enzyme inhibitory activities” that may prove conducive to blood sugar and blood pressure management, without the side effects of commonly prescribed drugs. **

Restoring these traditional foods will have an impact on reducing diet-related illness in our communities. We will have a seed log up on the Ansihinaabe Seed Library website soon showing all of the seeds that we currently have saved, their story, nutrition facts, and how to grow and save the seeds.