My final semester in graduate school at American University, I participated in a practicum regarding the U.S. Farm Bill and additional agricultural policies. I worked on a particularly moving and significant case of seed sovereignty amongst the Hopi. For anyone unfamiliar, the Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona. The Hopi, whose ancient seeds make most heirlooms look brand spanking new, also descend from one of the earliest inhabitants of North America. For my final project, I created and produced a documentary short in which Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson discusses seeds, sustainability, stewardship and sovereignty in Hopi.
The Case of Hopi Seed Sovereignty
Seed Sovereignty is the right of every farmer to use, save, adapt, and share their seeds freely in the commons.
The Hopi, descendants of the ancient Pueblo Peoples, have inhabited what is now the American Southwest for more than 2,000 years during which time they have cultivated unique varieties of corn, beans, melons, and squash. These ancient crops are truly resilient, having adapted to the arid, high elevation climate in which the Hopi reside.
The Problem: Hopi seeds, like many heirloom seeds, are threatened by the modern, industrial agricultural practices such as the monoculture cropping of hybrid and genetically modified crops and the extension of intellectual property rights to plant genetic material.
Robust policies and programs are needed at the Federal and local levels to protect these seeds, the cultural heritage they represent and the food as well as spiritual security they provide to the Hopi people.
In March, I had the amazing opportunity to visit what is now the Hopi Reservation in modern-day Arizona with a fellow student and one of our professors. While there we learned what Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson is doing to promote traditional farming practices and preserve these seeds.
To the Hopi, these seeds are life.