Native American Seed Sanctuary

by Tusha Yakovleva

Tsi Rontenenhanonhnha: Where They Protect the Seeds


Photo courtesy Hudson Valley Farm Hub

This past season, we planted the inaugural sacred seeds of the Native American Seed Sanctuary. In partnership with native seed keeper Rowen White, the St. Regis Mohawk/Akwesasne community of northern New York, and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, we grew five traditional Mohawk food crops. The seeds that were collected from the land represent the ancestors and the future of the Iroquois people. By saving seeds from these varieties, the ceremonies, songs, creation stories, and foodways of the tribes are passed into the hands and hearts of the next generation.


Photo courtesy Hudson Valley Farm Hub

The chosen varieties are important cultural staples with dwindling seed banks. Rowen White provided seeds for a traditional Three Sisters (four, with the sunflowers) garden. She sent six pounds of Mohawk Red Bread Corn - of which just a few years ago there were only two ears remaining. From this, we were able to save 800 pounds of seed. We also saved Buckskin Brown Beans (50 pounds), Canada Crookneck Squash (30 pounds), and Onondaga Sunflower (40 pounds). The seed harvests were repatriated to the tribes from which the seeds were collected. The majority of the harvest traveled north with the Akwesasne Cultural Restoration Program, to be used for preparing traditional Mohawk foods and in the Longhouse Ceremony. The remainder is being saved as our special planting stock for next year.

With the support and hard work of the Hudson Valley Farm Hub team, local volunteers, and the Akwesasne community, the seeds were planted at the Farm Hub in Kingston, between the Esopus Creek and the NYS Thruway - right along the proposed path of the Pilgrim Pipeline (learn more about the pipeline here). In November, a big group came together once more, to harvest the seeds, venerate their sacred nature, and celebrate in gratitude for the seed sanctuary's first season. Akwesasne tribe members lead the group in prayer and blessing and Rowen taught volunteers how to braid corn, a traditional method for storing and sharing corn. The pounds upon pounds of edible squash that remained after seed processing went home with volunteers, to Akwesasne, and to local Ulster County food banks and soup kitchens.

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Rowen White with the corn harvest; Buckskin Beans succession ripening

Without seed keepers like Rowen White, caring organizations like the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, and sanctuaries like this to grow the seeds, these varieties could disappear forever along with their sacred stories. This is just one of the grant and donation funded projects we’ll continue to steward as we expand and develop the non-profit started by the Hudson Valley Seed Library. If you would like to support our work or get involved, check out Seed Shed

Hear Ken Greene and Bob Dandrew, Director of the Local Economies Project, speak about the Seed Sanctuary

Learn more about:

Rowen White and Sierra Seeds

The Hudson Valley Farm Hub

St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Environmental Division