By Kailyn Allen
Sometimes really big things start out as tiny seeds.
When I moved into my home, my mother warned me about a particular vine-like weed that was slowly and sweetly creeping up the lattice on my deck. I asserted that I couldn’t care less that it was a weed; it was charming and I refused to pull it. It soon grew to monstrous proportions and began its quest for total yard dominance. Every time I attempted to control its growth by yanking fistfuls of it out of the ground, zillions of its teeny tiny seeds fell and seemed to instantly germinate. Every time a slight breeze blew, or a car drove past, or any one looked out the window too hard, zillions more fell. At one point I was certain that even the seeds themselves were producing seeds.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a presentation entitled “Medicine Seed” given by Jamie Holding Eagle at MSUM. It was not given in a large lecture hall, or attended by hundreds of people. Instead, we were able to listen from the comfort of plush sofas while sipping hot tea in the cozy Women’s Center on campus.
The flier for her presentation describes her work well. It reads: “…And thus what started off as seemingly unrelated interests in sustainable science, radical feminism, and the value of biodiversity grew into something much bigger. I called it Medicine Seed. Familial knowledge of the land and agriculture held by women from a century ago has renewed value when viewed as a means of combating the threats of global starvation, monocultures, biopiracy, and the rapid depletion of resources. Looking back at where I came from has informed me on where I’m going.”
She began the presentation with the story of her personal family history. Jamie Holding Eagle, of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Dakota heritage, is the great-great-granddaughter of Scattered Corn, a legendary skilled horticulturalist and the first female corn priest of the Mandan people in North Dakota.
“While this research was very personal at times,” Holding Eagle said, “it was also inspiring in how universal it is. Not only Native women were the seed holders for their families, but globally, many groups have valued women’s roles as agriculturalists.”
“The role as corn priest involved ceremonies for successful harvests. Corn was very valued and revered for both its role in sustaining life and embodying the history of the people. Seed saving was a valued art. This resonated with me,” she said.
By contrast, major seed companies today have embraced devastatingly destructive practices on a global scale. We are allowing major corporations to produce unhealthy food in ways that are also unhealthy for our earth. Legislation currently protects agribusiness and their interests in privatizing and commercializing seed production. This has been detrimental to farmers. Seeds, once viewed as public commons, are now being made into privately owned commodities.
These companies are essentially stealing our seeds. They not only threaten to rob us of our freedom to connect to the earth by growing naturally and sustainably, but have actually caused the extinction of numerous varieties of plants. We are losing cultural diversity as well as biodiversity as a result of these production methods. Neither are things we can afford to lose. “Why are we not outraged by this?” asked Holding Eagle. “We feel like experts should do everything and that they’re unquestionable,” she said. “As a society we devalue what people do with their hands; but science is for everybody. Growing is for everybody.”
The presentation touched on many important issues. I asked Jamie what the main idea she wanted to covey was. She answered: “Ultimately, I am concerned about getting people thinking about issues of global food crisis and their own abilities to farm.”
So what can be done? A lot. Grow a garden, even a small one. Educate yourself on the issues. Organize a ‘Farm to School’ project. Refuse to purchase genetically modified products. Simply cut back on sugar. Use natural pest and weed control products and methods. Even these simple things can produce major results if enough people do it. It all helps; it’s like scattering tiny seeds.
I thought about those teeny tiny seeds of that weed I couldn’t control a few summers ago, and I realized that people have a lot of power. Major corporations and other vehicles of capitalism have to steal seeds. By informing ourselves and acting on our convictions, we create them. In fact, if we are passionate enough, maybe even our seeds can produce seeds.
While doing this research, Jamie Holding Eagle was able to find little more than the name of her great-grandmother; it was Medicine Seed. “I decided to name the project after her. I love the name and everything it connotes.” Holding Eagle said, “It implies there is healing and health in growing.”
I think she’s right about that. At first as I listened, I grew interested, and then I grew inspired. As I grew more informed, I grew angry. This year, I plan to grow lots of things, (maybe even some charming weeds), and make those who profit from stealing seeds grow nervous.
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