‘SEED: The Untold Story’ Tells of Indigenous Guardians of Seed Diversity

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'SEED: The Untold Story' Tells of Indigenous Guardians of Seed Diversity
By Kristin Butler
Indian Country Today | April 18th, 2017

'SEED,' now available for live streaming, shares the life-saving power of seed diversity and the work of passionate seed keepers.

Vital and miraculous, seeds sustain life on the planet. “If you have seeds in your pocket, you can walk, and you can eat the seeds. But if you have money, you cannot eat the money. This is gold,” said Emigdio Ballon, who runs Tesuque Pueblo’s agriculture programs, while clutching ancient seed varieties during the filming of the documentary SEED: The Untold Story.

SEED: The Untold Story takes viewers on a global journey from America’s Indian country to India, Peru, Hawaii and beyond. The documentary features indigenous guardians of ancient seeds, including Rowen White, Mohawk founder of Sierra Seeds; Hopi Nation leader Leigh Kuwanwisiwma; Louie Hena, a Tesuque Pueblo seed keeper; Winona LaDuke; and Native Hawaiian teacher Malia Chin, among several others.

SEED: The Untold Story, premiered on PBS last night, April 17, and is now available on DVD and online streaming at seedthemovie.com/watch. The documentary emphasizes that “the diversity of our seed stocks is as endangered as a panda or a golden eagle or a panda bear right now.”

In the last century, 94 percent of the world’s seed varieties have disappeared. The last study to count U.S. seed diversity was in 1983. There were 544 cabbage varieties; 28 varieties remained. There were 158 varieties of cauliflower; nine remained. There were 55 varieties of kohlrabi, three remained; 34 varieties of artichoke, two remained; 288 varieties of beets, 17 remained; 46 varieties of asparagus, one variety remained.

The documentary hones in on corn, first domesticated in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico. Corn seeds gradually snaked up the spine of the Americas, exploding across the landscape and North America about 1,000 years ago. “As keepers of the corn, the corn has come with us on our migrations, sustaining us,” Hena said.

“Corn really is this beautiful co-creation between plants and humans,” said White, a seed keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, founder of Sierra Seeds. “…Corn becomes so elastic and adaptive. Now we see corn being grown on every continent.”

Growing corn is spiritual, explained Kuwanwisiwma, Hopi. “The say when the corn hears you, they start dancing with you; the leafs flutter,” he said.

Even the tiniest cob, missing the majority of its kernels due to crow damage, is harvested and consumed. “People are too attracted to the big and beautiful. But the Hopi women and men say even this one is special [Kuwanwisiwma lifts a small, humble corn cob], because every seed has life,” Kuwanwisiwma said.

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