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Seeds and Food Sovereignty, a Conversation with Elizabeth Hoover

Mar 17, 2019

Committed to preserving heirloom seeds and traditional forms of Indigenous food preparation, Anthropologist Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk/Mi’kmaq) has dedicated the last decade to exploring Native American food practices and environmental justice. In a recent interview in the Green Fire Times, Hoover discussed the aim of her current research: to provide a comprehensive account of the Native American food sovereignty movement.

An assistant professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University, a member of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, and the Slow Food Turtle Island Association, Hoover formed a bond in 2007 with the Ukisusknee Indians when their land and water, downstream from three Superfund sites, became contaminated. This profoundly affected the livelihood of these gardening, fishing and farming peoples.

Elizabeth Hoover braiding corn. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hoover.

The experience of helping them rebuild led her to seek out 39 other communities across the nation that are reviving traditional seeds, farming practices and cultural connections to food.

Hoover is especially focused on the seeds themselves, which many Natives view as relatives that have been separated from their community.

In the interview, she notes:

One of the big questions I address is how people define seeds from their own communities. Do seeds have to have had a continuous existence? If a seed comes back to a community from a seed bank—in some cases seeds have been collected and put in institutions on shelves and in jars for decades—do people have differing explanations of why heirloom seeds were important? And, in what ways do people see these seeds as family members? A lot of my work has been exploring how seeds connect back with the communities they come from and seeing how the descendants of what we might think of as dusty old seeds get back to people and their gardens.

Hoover will present her recent work: From “Garden Warriors” to “Good Seeds”: Indigenizing the Local Food Movement, on Thursday, March 21, 2019, at the James A. Little Theater at the School for the Deaf in Santa Fe at 6:30 p.m. Hoover will be speaking as part of SAR’s Creative Thought Forum, which brings cutting-edge thinkers to Santa Fe to discuss topics of broad social concern. This year the series asks how traditional practices interact with innovative thinking and emerging technology.

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