Our Continued Survival

by Terrylynn Brant

It will soon be time to gather the seeds in preparation for winter storage. There will be songs to sing, prayers to be said, thanks to be given and dances to be danced, as we continue to hold seed ceremonies for the gifts of creation.

Wa’tkwanonweraton sewakweko! I pay greetings and respect to all of you who are reading my article today. I am Sera;sera (Meadow Lark), a traditional Seedkeeper of the Mohawk Nation. In english I am Terrylynn Brant, Mohawk, Turtle Clan and I garden at my home on the Six Nations Territory in Southern Ontario.

I became a Seedkeeper, “one who ensures the family lineage of seeds is put forward for the coming faces”, because of my sacred relationship with plants. I have gardened my whole life and learned my craft through relationship with family, friends, plants and Creator.

Every spring the ancestral blood that runs through my body is awakened by the stirring of Grandmother Moon, the one who controls all life by timing births and energizing the waters. We owe a great deal to her regulation of creation and in our humble way need to understand her effects on us as humans. So even when you think you have made choices or chosen a certain path, believe me, grandmother is the guide.

I mention her specifically today because her guidance is a key part of my life journey. I was gifted to be a person of the plants. Gardening is my passion and I have spent a lifetime growing and enjoying their company. As a Haudenonsaunee person I have learned to follow our ceremonial cycle which is based on the agricultural cycle of plants. We hold ceremony through the year, honouring the various stages in agriculture such as MidWinters, Sun and Moon, Maple Time, Planting Time, Strawberry Time, Green Bean Harvest, Green Corn Harvest, Releasing the Hunters, to name some. It is important that as Haudenonsaunee people we fulfill our responsibility to the Creator by thanks the various entities for continuing to fulfill their responsibility and help feed and heal the Nation.

Our ceremonies are not complex but do take a commitment to ensure they are “put through”. I look forward to ceremony time as a gardener and Seedkeeper as an acknowledgement of the gifts from Creation. Throughout the season you can find me generally in my garden tending to plants or foraging in the forest, our first garden.

Today we have many individuals who take courses or do independent research on what today’s gardeners call Permaculture. This trend in gardening encourages companion planting, organic methods of growing, food forests and working with the powers of observation to ensure healthy plant growth. Permaculture while it has its big names who brought it to the masses was something that was observed and borrowed from many indigenous gardeners around the world.

While I do follow permaculture around the world and appreciate how it is making people relearning gardening in a natural way I have not left my indigenous roots behind. I still remember the indigenous practices of my ancestors and hold them in high regard both spiritually and practically. This has kept me on the path of being a Seedkeeper.

I carry seeds from my family lineage that have been with us for as long as we can remember. These seeds grow the basic foods that have sustained our families for many generations. It is very difficult work to mentor seeds and keep the diversity in them alive. These seeds are handed down from generation to generation and have become not only a part of the food on our plates but also our medicine cabinets, our spiritual guides and healers of our minds when necessary.

As we move away from our “corn villages”, or a way of life that had corn and plants as the heart of our social systems, we see our people drifting away, further into communities of mass food production. This movement is leading to the breaking down of our traditional “corn villages”. Our societies have all the tools necessary to keep them vibrant and alive, we just need to grab onto them again.

I have seen the loss of our indigenous agriculture in my community but am also seeing the realization of the people to return to our healthy foods and social systems. This is why I garden. I work to keep our seeds available for the day our community members want to pick them up again. It is sad when I visit the local corner store and can’t find any of our foods to buy. Everything is processed from foods grown hundreds of miles away. The recipes of the old foods are getting lost to this generation simply because the food is no longer there for them to purchase and growing for many today seems to be beyond their capacity. We need to grow again.

I am currently in year four of a seven year growing cycle. In our way of agriculture seven years is a cycle. It is a life time in the soils that we till, after seven years we need to dramatically energize and revitalize our soils as it goes into its next cycle. I began this new garden which I call Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens as a location to grow our original seeds in greater quantities. I have been able to feed my family with my smaller family location but as I too grow into a new cycle in my life, I am ready to share seeds on a bigger scale.

I grow many corn, bean and squash varieties which are staple foods in the lineage of the Haudenonsaunee. These foods hold the beauty of lineage and spirit within. When we eat our foods we enjoy their flavour and cherish the age old recipes of our grandmothers. Many individuals have come to understand the benefits of eating organic whole foods, now we need to move towards eating and growing heritage foods from heritage seeds. Each seed has a story to tell, one of extreme resilience and spirit. Many seeds have been carried in the pockets of their keepers to new lands and gardens around the world. Today i am working to share my seeds and growing practices with any who are interested in taking this journey on.

I have been working to increase my seeds to establish a Six Nations Seedbank. It is time to ensure everyone has a place to locate our beautiful sacred seeds. As my new seed garden is underway I have been sharing my knowledge of seeds through lectures, class visits, workshops and Seedkeepers Gatherings. I am determined to spread seeds and encourage all to participate in some level in growing, storing and preserving their own foods.

My next phase will be to establish a sustainable living centre for individuals and groups to come to for learning. I hope to establish model gardens, cooking classes, indigenous grocery store, cafe and general learning and honouring space for seedkeepers. It is my hope to build a centre as soon as the summer of 2018.

Last summer I had the opportunity to work on the building of an Earthship here on Six Nations. I came to know Mike Reynolds and his amazing team of builders. Mike is the inventor of the original Earthship and has established the Earthship community in Taos, New Mexico which I visited this summer. It is an amazing near zero carbon community of 80 Earthship homes. So inspiring to see how we can live in harmony with our earth if we just try. This amazing community has given me the inspiration to build an Earthship facility to house Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens. All the learning and sharing between the First Nations people and settler peoples needs a place free of politics and governments for exchanging knowledge and growing into the people we want this country to have.

I welcome anyone who is interested in indigenous gardening, heritage seed saving, Earthship building and simple ways of living lightly on Mother Earth to contact me for more information. If you would like to be a volunteer at Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens or perhaps be involved in the Earthship build or would like to make a donation to the build please contact me and together we will see what we can create for the faces yet to come.