Saturday, 01 July 2017 00:00

Beyond Canada 150: Interview with Terrylynn Brant, Mohawk Seedkeeper

"For me, all life depends on the seed, it holds the memory of our past and creates our future as unique and different as each seed. It is in seeds that we grow to understand our true relationship with creation."

Terrylynn Brant

By Rebecca Ivanoff 

In the centre of the community hall are long tables covered in small packages of seeds. One table holds colourful piles of corns, another has beautiful beans, and still others carry squash, tobacco, and sunflower seeds, less colourful but equally diverse. At the front of the room people are gathered, seated on chairs, and listening intently to an older gentleman talk about why he saves seeds.

On this sunny day, I am at the seedkeepers gathering at the Six Nations community hall for a seed exchange. A woman with long red-brown hair and a serious expression welcomes me, handing me some forms. They're to write down the story of the seeds that I planned to add to the tables as part of the exchange. This is Terrylynn Brant, the organizer of the event.

Terrylynn is a mother, grandmother and lifelong gardener, beekeeper, maple syrup producer, and seedkeeper at Six Nations in Grand River Territory, Ontario. The seeds that she keeps have been in her family since before European settlers arrived on this land. She grows food primarily for her family and she teaches others how to cultivate traditional foods. The first time I met her she was speaking about her seed saving project, Mohawk Seedkeepers, in both Kanien'kéha (the Mohawk language) and English while feeding the grandchild on her knee a meal of corn that she had grown and cooked.

Each time I hear Terrylynn speak, I am amazed at the depth of knowledge she is willing to share and the grounded manner in which she shares it. The knowledge seems so practical and yet so philosophical. When I was asked to interview seed savers whose work may not be widely known, Terrylynn came immediately to mind. One evening, after a scorching hot Ontario summer day, I speak to Terrylynn on the phone as we take a break from our respective fields.

"Seed saving is just a natural part of gardening," she tells me when I ask what had brought her to seed saving. "It is something that you naturally do when you are growing things: you save the seeds so you have them for next year. It is just something that I have naturally done."

For Terrylynn, this inclination to save seeds is tied into an awareness of seed saving as being a part of nurturing families.

"I save seeds because seeds are the next generation of sustenance for the people. They are part of the cycle. Gardening and seedkeeping create connections and sustainability or, for us, we use the word sovereignty. We are able to care for ourselves while maintaining seeds by keeping them and handing them down and always having them there for next year, for next season. It helps create sovereignty, and the idea that you know that life will continue and so will you."

Every community has its own unique relationship with food and seed. Terrylynn says her southern Ontario home is no different.

"My community is like any other community that has its own special interaction with seeds, in which it likes to keep and maintain certain foods for certain ceremonial and cultural purposes. Certain foods are needed for certain events or past times," she says.

"For our people, seed saving is tied into the idea that to eat and to sustain ourselves defines who we are as a people and who we are as a culture. When we continue to eat the things that we have always eaten from time immemorial, it becomes part of the spirit of who we are. It becomes a part of our DNA. It makes us who we are."

On the other side of the coin, she says, when traditional diets are lost, so is that connection.

"When we eat foods from other lands or other places, then we lose a little bit of who we are and we start to become who someone else is," says Terrylynn. "We are connected to a certain territory or lands, and the foods that come from there is what sustains the people. That is what creates the cycle of life and the connection to the earth itself. You are eating off the land that you live on and to where you will eventually return back to. To be part of the ecosystem is eating from that ecosystem. The better we understand this relationship the better we will be at taking care of the lands on which we grow our food."

"Seeds have their own way and they know how to grow. That's the reason they have been placed here on the earth." She explains to me that in her people's tradition, the Creator gave everything here on earth a responsibility - for seeds, that means to grow.

"It is an amazing thing when you give seeds a little soil, sun and water and a few weeks later you look at the seeds and say, 'well, don't you grow!' You can't stop a seed from growing! When you manipulate the seeds then the seed forgets its original responsibility. And then it needs supports that are unnatural. And you take away its inherent ability to take care of itself. And this is our relationship with them: we have to leave them to do the job they are sent to do in they way they are sent to do it. Not in an unnatural way."

"For me, all life depends on the seed, it holds the memory of our past and creates our future as unique and different as each seed," she says. "It is in seeds that we grow to understand our true relationship with creation."

After this interview, every time I look at the bounty of the harvest I say to myself, "well, don't you grow!" I think of what Terrylynn told me about the seed's responsibility to grow. And I ponder my responsibilities: to help nurture the Earth, the seeds, and our communities.

Rebecca Ivanoff is a senior market garden staff member and seed saving coordinator at Whole Circle Farm in Acton, Ontario.

Read 2087 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 21:36

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