About 50 farmers, seed savers, and gardeners gathered at Ristorante La Vista for the second Kahnawake Collective Impact (KCI) seed conference last weekend to discuss the importance of preserving seeds.
Seed saving has always played a large role in Kanien’kehá:ka culture and traditions. To regain food sovereignty, relearning these practices is critical, according to seedkeeper Stephen McComber.
“It’s not just about learning to grow potatoes,” said McComber, recently elected as a Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief. “It’s all the different things that we need to become sovereign or independent in the things that we grow.”
Reclaiming and sharing traditional knowledge on growing and seed-saving techniques is crucial for addressing the overrepresentation of food insecurity within Indigenous communities – with 54 percent of Metis and First Nations people on reserves in Canada being food insecure, according to the Canadian Journal of Public Health.
The presentations encompassed a range of topics including traditional seed saving, permaculture principles, planting in accordance to lunar cycles, and soil amendments.
The first seed conference was held in 2021 but had a much lower attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This year’s conference was organized by Stephen McComber, alongside Takariwaiehne McComber, and Martin Montour.
Stephen’s recent appointment to the sustainable development portfolio at MCK in December 2022 has provided him with the opportunity to put on these types of events, which align firmly with his mandate. He said that conferences like these are why he ran for Council.
“I know a lot of the needs of the community,” said Stephen. “I’ve been working on this conference even before I ran for Council. When I ran, it was to try to make more of these kinds of things happen.”
Kahèhtoktha Janice Brant, a seed preserver from Tyendinaga, also presented at the event. She has been interacting with seeds since childhood, when she would help her grandmother sort through them to find the most viable ones. She operates the Kenhte:ke Seed Sanctuary and Learning Centre in Tyendinaga on less than one acre of land.
“The agronomic practices that were documented by Champlain and Cartier in the 1500s amongst the Haudenosaunee are still the leading practices in the world for regenerative, sustainable, stable agriculture. Our people – that was their knowledge, their wisdom, their practices,” said Brant.
Brant emphasized how integral food and seeds are to Kanien’kehá:ka. “All of our ceremonies pertain to food,” she said. “Every single one.”
Without sharing this knowledge, much of its wisdom is lost.
“I wanted to come to give myself more knowledge on our ways,” said Jamie Deer, who felt attending this conference helped her better understand traditional Onkwehón:we seed keeping and preserving practices.
In addition to the presentations, the conference also provided a small marketplace on Sunday, where two seed companies, Gaïa and Le Noyau, offered their products to attendees.
While this is Stephen’s first large project since his appointment, he is excited for future initiatives, such as dedicating an area of land in Kahnawake for growing food.
He similarly has ideas on how to make the next seed conference even more successful by opening it up to the public and incorporating concurrent workshops that would take place in tandem with or parallel to the presentations.
“There’s going to be a lot more things in the future but this is a good start,” he said.