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Emigdio Ballon sifts Hopi Blue Corn in front of the Tesuque Seed Bank, built by the community of adobe, straw bales, and car tires. A Quechua Bolivian farmer working in Tesuque, he is “inspired by the needs of the people. I think the needs of the people in South or Central or North are almost the same. . . . It’s your piece of land there. It’s your ancestors there. They’re giving to you the power, the energy of the things you’re eating.” As with so many in these networks, Emigdio’s work is intensely local, managing Tesuque’s farm, and extensively global, networking and educating through Slow Food and other networks. 2016

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David Bray (Seneca) holds Onëo, Seneca White Corn, planted and harvested at his farm in Cattaraugas Territory (New York, USA). Brought to California as seeds through The Cultural Conservancy, this corn has been adapted and shared with the Bay Area intertribal community. David’s daughter, Kaylena, and his wife, Wendy, shared the knowledge of how to cook the corn in the vast diversity of ways possible at each moment of its growth. Relationships in these networks are often familial, and this work is intensely personal and intimate at the same time communal and political. “Growing up doing corn, I’ve often just gathered information, anecdotal so to speak, from various Indigenous people, whether it was doing work with the United Nations or just visiting people.” 2016

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Seneca White Corn. 2016

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David Bray (Seneca) holds Onëo, Seneca White Corn, planted and harvested at his farm in Cattaraugas Territory (New York, USA). Brought to California as seeds through The Cultural Conservancy, this corn has been adapted and shared with the Bay Area intertribal community. David’s daughter, Kaylena, and his wife, Wendy, shared the knowledge of how to cook the corn in the vast diversity of ways possible at each moment of its growth. Relationships in these networks are often familial, and this work is intensely personal and intimate at the same time communal and political. “Growing up doing corn, I’ve often just gathered information, anecdotal so to speak, from various Indigenous people, whether it was doing work with the United Nations or just visiting people.” 2016

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Roger Cook (Mohawk), who lives and cultivates in Onondaga (New York, USA), works with the Braiding the Sacred network. “I’m trying to do my part so that the Seventh Generation will see the corn still, that they’ll be able to eat it, that they will be able have it for ceremonies, and just to enjoy everything that comes with the corn. . . . We’re seeing these exchanges happening now of our old seed, traditional seeds. . . . A very important part of keeping all those strains alive is entrusting people with seeds to carry it on for us. Maybe in the event that our crop fails here, our seed will be alive in another area. And maybe their seed will be alive in our area for them. It’s a seed bank within ourselves.
We are the seed banks.” 2016

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Shpeyiah Swimmer sings to his corn in the field. He cultivates in his Native territory of Kawaik (Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, USA) with other youth of Yakanal, a cultural exchange organization whose name comes from the Western Keres and Yucatec Mayan words for “corn”: yaa’ka and nal. Yakanal hosts gathering and facilitates projects with youth working on Indigenous exchange throughout the Americas to strengthen cultural identity and leadership, including in food and seed sovereignty. 2016

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This micaceous clay sculpture, by Natasha Smoke Santiago (Akwesasne Mohawk), holds heirloom corn. At a Great Lakes intertribal food sovereignty summit, the cobs were used to impress corn patterns into cooking and seed pots. 2018

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Rowen White, a Mohawk seed keeper, says that Corn Mother “carries a message of hope . . . of generosity and kindness and abundance. . . . We as a colonized people were given the story of scarcity, that there wasn’t enough. . . . Corn, her voice is one of exponential abundance. That one seed turns into a hundred, and a hundred turns into a thousand, and then exponentially more. . . . It’s seeing seeds as these sacred talismans of hope and potential. [Corn] sings that song of abundance and of endless nourishment. . . . Corn is our mother, she will always be there to nourish us, protect us, take care of us. But it’s also our responsibility and our duty to take care of her.” She trains and organizes in large networks of seed keepers, through ISKN and Sierra Seeds, her own company. 2016

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Margaret Brascoupe (Tesuque Pueblo) and Clayton Brascoupe (Mohawk) hold a few of the many varieties of corn they keep in their home—keeping their relatives close. “The seed needs care just like a child, an infant, needs that care to be able to grow strong and healthy,” Margaret says. Clayton is the founder and director of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association and leads trainings and workshops on seed keeping and cultivation. He sees the potential to create culture shift and catalyze political power for biocultural protection: “There has to be a way that we could get these fields, especially the cornfields, designated as sacred sites. . . . If our fields somehow do get assaulted by GMOs [genetically modified organisms] . . . then we’d have more of a protection.” 2016

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Jim Enote (Zuni) contemplates the skies in Zuni Pueblo (New Mexico, USA) at the end of the rainy season, where he is irrigating his drought-resistant corn using no machinery, only ditches. “This is my fifty-ninth consecutive year planting since I was in the cradle board. They put seeds in my hand and then I dropped them into the hole as a baby. Then every year since then I’ve been planting. I have made my share of mistakes, but I’ve learned a few things too.” Now he teaches what he’s learned, mentoring younger farmers and interacting with broader community networks through the Colorado Plateau Foundation and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. 2016