Reseeding the Food System: An Interview with Rowen White
Looking to Traditional Creation Stories to Find a Way Forward
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
Rowen White is a Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and an activist for seed sovereignty. In this in-depth interview, Rowen shares what seeds—her greatest teachers—have shown her: that resilience is rooted in diversity, and that all of us carry encoded memories of how to plant and care for seeds.
From the episode:
Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: You’ve talked a lot about that challenge to the dominant Western worldview of seeds as an inanimate object, but as you’re describing them, they come alive as if they’re relatives and as if they’re kin. And just as we’re seeking to reconnect to seeds and food in a meaningful way, it seems like you’re talking about how seeds themselves are yearning for human relationship, and that they were left behind as people moved away from a direct relationship from growing food. How have you experienced seeds communicating this yearning? How are they talking to you about what’s been happening to them?
Rowen White: I feel very humbled and very honored to have seeds be one of my great teachers in this life, and I sit in circle with a number of Indigenous seed keepers who feel the same way. It feels like we’ve become vessels and voices that speak on their behalf in this time when so many people have forgotten the immensity of a seed and the power of a seed. I’ve seen and heard stories of corn dances and songs coming back through young people who’ve been immersed in community gardens, where these old forgotten ways are coming back again through the hearts and intuitions of these young people.
These songs and these dances that were perhaps thought to be extinct or forgotten have been returning, because we’ve been restoring our connection and relationship to seed. As a Haudenosaunee woman, a Mohawk woman, our connection to these seeds draws back all the way to our original creation story, where these seeds and foods emerged from the dying body of the daughter of Original Woman. They came from her body as a gift to her twin sons, so we would forever be nourished by these foods and seeds. Therefore, it was our responsibility to acknowledge that we were bound in a reciprocal relationship to them, that they were our relatives, that we were to take care of them, and that part of their duty was, in some ways, to lay themselves down in sacrifice for the nourishment of the human relatives.
As we begin to remember—I always think about “remember” as meaning “to put things back together.” You’re re-membering; you’re putting things back together again. As we begin to put the pieces back together of our food, of the way that we feed and nourish ourselves, I think that the seeds have a lot of ways in which they’re animating us—and animating our hands, and hearts, and bodies—to grow a way of nourishing ourselves and sustaining ourselves on the land that honors the grand lineage of ancestors, human ancestors and non-human ancestors, who went through so much adversity, and joys, and all of what it means to be human, so that we could have food and seed here today.