TEDxTC – Winona LaDuke – Seeds of Our Ancestors, Seeds of Life


Translator: Capa Girl
Reviewer: Fran Ontanaya (Ojibwe language) Greeting you in Ojibwe,
as you probably gathered. The language from this Oma Aking here. And I am thanking you very much for the
honor of being here. I’m telling you I’m from White Earth,
up north, from my reservation, I’m calling you my relatives. I wanted to start like that because I thought about what I’m going to talk
to you about tonight which is that food for us
comes from our relatives. Whether they have wings,
or fins or roots and indeed that is how we consider food. Food has a culture.
It has history. It has stories, it has relationships,
that tie us to our food. Food is more than something you just buy
at the store. Something that just doesn’t have
a stamp on it. In our community, we are told long time
ago by our prophets, our Anishinabe people lived
on the eastern seaboard. And we’re related to those people out there,
the Wampanoags and others. And we were instructed by our prophets that we should follow a shell which
appeared in the sky. And in following that shell,
we would arrive at the place where the food grows upon the water. And that food that grows upon the water
is minoman, or wild rice. So we were instructed by the creator
to move here, Oma Aking, to this place. And our wild rice, our minoman,
is our most sacred food. It is food that is first food given to a child
when they can eat solid and it is last food before
you pass in to the spirit world. [Unclear] a lot of our feasts,
and a lot of ceremonies and it’s very important to us. And as you know, we’ve fought hard
and long to keep our rice and to keep it good. This is a picture of Nokomis
and Nanaboozhoo. That’s our spirit beings from
who we descend making wild rice. This is my community today. Do pretty much the same thing as we did
for a thousand years. We got an aluminum canoe now
instead of a birch bark. Hard to get trees that size these days,
but we still rice. And then the month that is called
Manoominike Giizis, wild rice-making moon,
August into September, you’ll see our people go out
on the lakes. We feel a great joy when we go out there
with our two sticks and a canoe. Go out there and harvest the rice. Sometimes it’s tall or short
or fat or skinny or, looks like a bottle brush or
looks all punked out. It’s diverse.
And that’s how we can keep it. Because when a wind comes through
it blows off some of the rice. It doesn’t blow off all the rice. There’s great diversity in that. We still parch it the same way over a fire. You can dance on your rice
in your new moccasins, we do pretty much the same thing
for all these years and that defines us
as Anishinabe people. Our story of our relationship to food
is similar to the relationship that other people have to their foods. This is Jerry Kononue
on the big island of Hawaii. This is kalo or taro. There’s about 80 varieties
of taro that exist in Hawaii. And they refer to it as part
of their cosmogeneology. I never heard that word
til I was over there. And what they said is
that in their regional stories and their original beings,
the sky and the stars had a child and the first child born
was a son named Callow. And he was born stillborn
and they buried that child. And then the mother cried,
and when she cried, from that child and from the ground
emerged callow or taro. As the elder stillborn, the younger child
that was born was Kane, or the Hawaiian. And so they consider that the taro
is their elder brother. And so it is not surprising that they,
like the Ojibwe people, as you may know, we fought the genetic engineering
of our wild rice, also the patenting of our wild rice. It will not surprise you that the native
Hawaiians also fought against the genetic engineering
of their cosmogenealogy. Of their older relative.
And fought the patenting. I like to call this picture,
white men can’t dance. And it has to do — these people are doing —
it’s like a haka. They’re summoning their ancestors
in their dance to come forward. And to help them to face off
with the enemy. In this case, genetic engineering.
In the University of Hawaii. And they’re facing a bunch of white guys in suits
at the University of Hawaii. Probably a little concerned with
the arrival of the Hawaiians here. And in this case,
the Hawaiians defeated them, both on the patenting issue, the patents
were torn-up at this meeting. On the food itself.
And they also, in Hawaii, they have a ban on
the genetic engineering of taro. One of the first and only places in the country
that such a ban has been maintained. But our peoples are very concerned
about our relatives and our responsibility to keep them. There’s a similar story that is told with
the Maori people of Aotearoa also known as New Zealand. I’m not sure what was new about it,
but anyway. So they have this potatoe there
called peru peru which has the highest level of
Andean genetics of any potato in the Pacific. Andean meaning
that is from South America. And thousands of years ago sea-faring
Maoris went to South America and brought this potato back before any petroleum
or Captain Cook or anybody. And they had this potato.
And they grow this potato. And so as you can imagine when
the universities in New Zealand wanted to genetically engineer
these potatoes they again were faced
with the Maoris who said, “We don’t think that’s a good idea. We don’t want you to do that
and we’re going to oppose you.” And they won. There are no
genetically engineered potatos there. And in that, they reestablished a relationship
with Aymara people from Peru area. Who thanked them for protecting
their sacred food as well. So these stories are worldwide issues on the challenges
that our relatives face. Whether it is genetic engineering
or whether it is patenting. Perhaps the more prominent issue
that we are facing is, in fact, the extinction of species
of foods in themselves. Over the past 100 years,
you’ve seen this, 75% decline in agro-biodiversity. That is to say, the species of seeds,
vegetables, common things that existed 100 years ago
do not exist today. Many of them extinct, whether in Canada
or in the United States, or on a worldwide scale. And increasingly, you’re seeing that,
today, for instance, the vast majority of corn
that is grown here in this country, has one genetic ancestor. This is something
that is a little bit frightening. In additon to that, we are seeing that
there is a more concentration of the ownership of these seeds
themselves by fewer and fewer. This has big implications
for our peoples. My community, the White Earth Reservation
in northern Minnesota, on our reservation,
one-third of the population served by Indian Health Service
has diabetes. The diabetes is caused
by the rapid transition from a traditional food
to industrialized foods. And increasingly that is occurring
across this country where dietary related illnesses
are becoming dominant sources of ill health in this country in themselves. Has a huge health impact, this loss of access
to our traditional foods cause today they’re saying that, “We get the vast majority of our calories
from less than 30 varieties of foods.” Concentration in fewer and fewer, and a lot of them, of course,
kind of greasy, in themselves. Then there is [an] economic issue. You could look at it a couple ways. One, concentration of ownership
of seeds in a few corporations. Increasingly,
farmers who held these seeds and had the cultural patrimony,
rights, relationship, and the wealth in themselves
are being deprived of that by patenting laws,
and increasing ownership. About seven corporations
control almost all the seeds that are commercially available
in the world, yeah. In our own communities though
this is a problem in itself. My reservation, you know,
our Ojibwe people totally self-sufficient until
pretty recently on food. That is to say before 100 years ago we were the northernmost
corn producers in the world. We push corn 100 miles north
of Winnepeg. Many varieties,
a multitude of sources. Maple syrup? That was us
way before Aunt Jemima, you know? All those foods,
we had in our community, yeah? But today we don’t produce
most of those foods. So, my reservation, which is stricken with
a good deal of poverty, you know? As many other Indian reservations. We find that we spend about
eight million dollars a year on food, and of that we spend
seven million dollars — like that! — off reservation, purchased Walmart,
food service of America, Cisco, etc. If you look at it, it’s almost — and what we buy on the reservation
you end up buying just a little bit that is in the food stores there
and what the vast majority of food stores there sell is junk food. You know, good food not accessible. In that, that food economy represents
about one quarter of our tribal economy. Which is lost down the drain
through different sources, something which could be a source
of wealth for us at our community. I don’t know how to quantify
the culture of grief associated with loss of your most
ancient varieties. I don’t know what that price tag is. But I know that it’s significant
what has happened to our peoples. But it is not just what’s happening
to our community. It’s what the future’s going to look like
for all of us. Because we’re sitting in Minneapolis today
and it’s 100 degrees out. That is climate change
is what is going on here. You’ve got floods in parts of the country, you got a good portion of the country
is on fire right now, right? You got tornadoes coming down. They’re saying that
over the next 20 years we gonna spend 20% of world GDP
on climate change related disasters. And amidst that, we have a food system
that is increasingly concentrated in both its monoculture and its ownership. They’re projecting a 34% loss
in corn crop in North Dakota. And what I am concerned about is the fact that we don’t have all the seeds
we could have at the table. What we have is a concentration,
and a rising sense of food insecurity. So we have some ideas on this,
this is my community, we have this corn restoration project.
This Bear Island Flint corn we’ve been working on for a long time.
It’s a good corn. And in that corn in itself, it came from
Bear Island in the middle of Leech Lake. I got about this much from a seed grower. He gave it to me and now
we have fields of it. Grows about this tall, has big ears, doesn’t require irrigation,
frost resistant. And when a sear wind comes through,
Monsanto’s round up ready corn tips over, but our corn is still standing. That is the corn we are looking at. The one in the middle, beautiful, pink
lady corn, kind of a magenta colored corn. I just like how it looks,
it tastes good too. And this other one,
Pawnee Eagle corn. They say that the Pawnees were given corn
from the corn mother, had this corn for all their time. And when they lived in Nebraska
they did good with their corn and the other people came,
the settlers came to see them. And when the settlers came they got on
good with the Pawnees. They traded horses and had them
fix their wagon wheels and various things. But the government forced the Pawnees
to leave and go to Oklahoma. And when they went they took their corn
with them but it did not grow. It did not grow. And so for many years they grieved
the loss of their corn, got less and less until
they just had like 25 different seeds. And then one day the descendants of the
settlers in Carney Nebraska asked if they could help grow
this corn varities again. And they petitioned the Pawnees. The Pawnees seed keeper talked to the
elders and they said, “We’ll let them try
cause we can’t grow our corn.” They sent that corn back to Nebraska,
and that corn flourished. And their varieties flourished. And so the descendants of the settlers
today grow the corn for the Pawnees, and what dad told me was that the corn
remembered the land it came from. It is a story. Corn has a history,
it has a story, and in this case, it is a form of redemption. That is the work we are doing
in our community. We’re working to bring back
our sugar bush, that’s the first harvest of the season. That’s my youngest son, sucking the sapp
out of the tree, eating my profits. (Laughter) We like this though, we feel good when we
are in the sugar bush. And we are trying to grow back
all our old varieties. This young man, that’s a Lakota squash. And that squash, in itself, was given to me
in October, and I ate it in May. Why am I telling you that? Because it’s a perfect
carbon reduced food. It didn’t require refrigeration,
freezing, or canning. It just hung out, was a squash.
Delicious that much later. Yeah? And so — it’s not just that you grow local food
it’s also what you grow. Cause it turns out a lot of these old
varieties are higher in amino acids, antioxidants, protein, trace minerals than
anything you can buy at the store. I don’t know why that is. What I figure is that,
in creating industrialized foods, that they could move 1500
miles from farmer to table, they created foods that would
respond well to pesticides, were uniform, could be picked well with whatever
equipment they were using, and transport well. And somehow in that I think that they lost
some nutritional value, you know. And so these seeds
are the endangered ones, but these are the ones that in our
theory are the seeds not just for now, but are the seeds
and the hopes for the future. Now as I reflected what to talk to you
about here tonight, I remembered that my father —
he passed away about 15 years ago — but he used to tell me something, which —
you’re all pretty smart people, you’re probably like me. He said, “You know, Winona.
You’re a really smart young woman,” He said, “but I don’t want to hear your
philosophy if you can’t grow corn.” That’s what he said. And there’s something in that,
that was right. You know,
we could be smart in our heads, but until we restore that relationship
that we have with the foods that the creator gave us,
we’re missing something, you know? We need to buy these foods locally,
we need to support this. That’s how you address
climate change in itself. Go organic and local,
sequester your carbon. But, more than that, to me it is also
about how we re-establish this relationship with our ancestors and our relatives,
the ones that have roots. Migwetch. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments 48

  • That potato story is AWESOME!

  • I am refreshed and encouraged by her. I hope her knowledge and message spreads like ripples in still water. We all need to hear this and to remember it in our actions. Thank you Winona. You bless us with your knowledge and spirit.

  • Really great presentation and important information. Thank you!

  • I "like" this. I am encouraged and poke my seed into my suburban lot, the place my creator led me to (though not as dramatically as the prophets led the people of the rice). For me, food is only one element of life but it is a gift. I desire to live a life that honors YHVH and the gift of food (and labor) he has gifted me with. A sacrifice of thanksgiving that is not genetically engineered. Thank you for this last 16 minutes of passion and inspiration.

  • This is a really awesome talk, but I just wanted to offer one correction to the Hawaiian story shared. Our elder brother, the kalo (taro), who was indeed stillborn, is named Hāloanakalaukapalili. The second brother, a kane (man), is named Hāloa.

  • Winona should be questioned on her views on depleted uranium on Indian land. DU cannot be hand in hand, it's one or the other. From our family traditional practice father slept with daughter and that is Haloa practice. Our babies of long ago are still in existence at the corner of our house lot–a place of Haloa.I still water the kalo that is planted in respect to Haloanakalaukapalili.My fathers name is Kanaka oo 'niaupio which means matured man. Property is 1845 Maunawili Rd. Oahu–we exist.

  • EPIC!!

  • Congratulations Winona, you do a good job for the humanity and the self-esteem of Natives ! Jack Weatherford, in his book INDIANS GIVERS describes how the Natives they had mastered genetics without having to go to university and become scientists. It helps to be directly linked with the Creator

  • ~^* A Superb Documentary! A toast to Ms. LaDuke *^~

  • Thank you, wise sister.

  • I think she is wrong about the Māori and the potato though……according to every piece of evidence I can find on here, Captain Cook brought the first potatoes to New Zealand, prior to that the Māori ate kumara, which are like yams or sweet potato

  • Of course he came via Cape Horn on his first visit, so he may have stopped off for supplies in South America :o)

  • There was no one trip over to the Americas – there were a number of potatoes that were brought over, some survived some didn't. Maori aren't one people and different tribes brought over different things. The common potato was brought over, and where did he get the potato from? All potato originally came from the Americas. Unknown to white history in the main, is there was a great trading route in and around the pacific.

  • Time to make an special force of security operatives, policy specialists, business professionals, research scholars, covert investigators, and bio-ecologists of Indigenous people to battle these agriculture imperialists/deprivers.

  • Nice video.

  • This is one of the most inspiring TEDTalks I have ever witnessed. I am thankful for all of our elders stepping up to this occasion. Our generation is blessed by the wisdom that is showing itself from indigenous communities.

  • I ashamed what my people have done to your people, all through history, and it's still happening. I am so sorry and support what you are doing. We need to learn from you & stand up for good in the same way that you do.
    Stay strong and stay healthy

  • Excellent, very well articulated and documented.

    Great stuff, thank you Winona for speaking out.

    With Love and Light.

  • THAT is so powerful and so eloquent.what a beautiful orator. My very favorite Ted talk.. thank you!!! Some history, some story telling, food for thought and thought for the future.

  • We, who?

  • beautifully spoken in wisdom 

  • Chi miigwech

  • Amazing talk.

  • I share her misgivings about GMOs, but mine are not based on quaint fables or religious views. – Its fashionable to believe that Native American religious views are superior to other religions, but they are all based on pre-rational guesses or just plain made up stories. None are based on any kind of data. – Not really a rational basis for arguing against GMOs. – Presenting data about the loss of genetic diversity is good. Showing how to grow quality food in an economically feasible way would be better… of course the audience at TED are generally not farmers.

  • outstanding talk. '
    …but perhaps the more prominent issue that we are facing is in fact the extinction of species of foods in themselves over the past hundred years you've have seen a 75% decline in agro-biodiversity. That is to say the species of seed, vegetables, common things that exited a hundred years ago, don't exist today.'

  • Dam that was good.

  • very touched by this, a lot of great incite to ponder on

  • Very moving speech, I am proud to be her relative 🙂

  • ideas of food sovereignty at it's finest.

  • westside!

  • "Food comes from our relatives!" She speaks truth.

  • You are an inspiration. Thank you for your service to all but especially for your native peoples.

  • That was so great. Thank you for your good works.

  • This makes sense and it was most interesting to listen to. I liked her speech and admire her knowledge

  • withlove

  • Wait a minute…I always thought rice came from Vietnam, Asian countries and such (not certain what such is?) Okay just have to wrap my head around my ignorance as a man and watch.

  • Without even understanding the language you are speaking one can see the depth and iron in your gestures the determination in the eyes and heart…. 90% of the people I am in contact with many engineers … educated think genetic hording of our food is hog wash and a fantasy. I do love them But, I think we have fallen to a depth we can no longer ignore but cannot come back from. It seems to me the people we grow now surpass my simple intelligence, but cannot Grow the corn (or the like) without having some one else do the physical act for them. WE are now like gods and feel detached, but are still rooted to the mother. Our society has the heart of a train a machine and it has its own genetic code of little empathy… far from a natural one and we are born of this mutated Disney Fantasy ! …. So sorry, If anything your determination gives me a little light in the distance where there is so much darkness. Thank you, my prayers go out to you and our survival. WE have lost our way.

  • Beautiful… can't argue with true HISTORY…. peace….. silent prayer

  • That one there is a teacher. And people should listen and repeat the words.

  • Staying at her house working for Honor the Earth now. It's sick she's on a tedtalk

  • WINONA, WE ALL YOUR RELATIVES LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH. TRUE FROM THE HEART AND SPIRIT.

  • Thank U – love this.

    This restoration redemption is an inspiration for the worldwide.

    “Food like substance” is vast majority of GMO grocery supply.

    This is why I do not donate blood to western science – it is not mine alone to give.

  • and this was in 2012….

  • Genuinely thankful to hear this talk.

  • True White men cannot dance they should get exterminated too!

  • anyone else here studying for the ENVS345 final?

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