Earth Day

 

 

 

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This unknown painter captures Earth Day for me.

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Young dancer after the ceremony

 

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David Garcia and band

 

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Woman on left making contact with the sky and earthing with her other hand… she may be holding Avanyu, Tewa serpent of the river(?) – I am fascinated by the large dog-like animal above her.

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Iren and I at the river…. water women we are!

 

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Honeybee cacophony!

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The seed circle – note the bowls of earth and water

Yesterday we attended The Tewa Seed Exchange at Los Luceros, a magnificent piece of lush irrigated land situated on the Rio Grande a place where many Indigenous peoples once lived and farmed. The orchards were stunning, magenta, deep rose, pale pink, and white clouds of fruit -tree blossoms drew in masses of bees from every direction. Standing under the trees to listen to this joyous buzz was pure honey-bee delight!

 

The seed ceremony was held outdoors in a circle and just as it began two red tailed hawks appeared out of the deep blue sky and circled over our heads – Messengers from the beyond, these birds have a habit of appearing at Indigenous ceremonies, a fact I have witnessed too many times to ignore. And what could be more important than a seed exchange between primarily Native peoples many of which had gathered seed from plants they had grown the year before and brought them to exchange with their neighboring pueblos?

 

The appearance of the two hawks also held personal significance for me because I buried my brother’s ashes on Earth day and this seed ceremony occurred the day before. Every year around this day hawks appear as messengers reminding me that my little brother lives on through these raptors he so loved… a comforting thought though he has been dead for 46 years.

 

Before the actual ceremony the current docent spoke. I was distressed to hear so little about the Tewa speaking peoples we were there to honor. Instead the recent story of conquest and colonization took the usual precedence along with that of the recent history of the mansion located on the property (which had finally been taken over by the state).

 

However, when the actual ceremony began the Tewa women blessed the seeds and we were asked to enter the circle from the direction we came from with our individual offerings all of which were put into a communal container… We moved around the circle counter clockwise before pouring our seeds into the large beautifully woven Indian basket. A simple but moving gesture that united all that participated.

 

The week before I had spent time reflecting on what seed offering I would make. I had saved many wild seeds from last spring but because I wasn’t here last summer, hadn’t planted any. Then just a few days before the ceremony I discovered a “black sage garden” on Iren’s land that she hadn’t known was there! I knew then that I needed to offer the seeds of this black sage, not just because it is a powerful blessing herb, and one deeply meaningful to me, but because of my deep gratitude towards this woman. I have been privileged to stay in safety and comfort on her land for two winters, and to offer these seeds as a form of thanking her as well as an offering for the ceremony felt just right.

 

What I also liked was how the children were encouraged to participate in the ceremony bringing seeds for the communal basket. Seed gifts from the earth belong to the ancestors of the Tewa and are also the seeds of their children’s future…

 

The dancing came next. I am always struck anew by the individuality of the dances although meaning seems to seep through the sound of the drumming. The singers/ musicians came first and two of them carried orange lightening sticks to call down the rain as they chanted. Four young people came next, two boys and two girls dressed in elaborate rainbow regalia, the boys with spear – like projections topped by the deep orange parrot feathers that identified them as the summer people. The boys danced in a circle with the two maidens, each gender moving up and down in a rhythmic way. The two girls wore a circle of red on each cheek to signify purity. The boys wore white net leggings, plowed the earth with their spears, the girls held up their baskets. The sounds of the bells, rattles, and gourds pulled me into their story, one without a need for words…

 

Just after the ceremony ended we were told that the children would use the earth, the water, and the seeds that had been placed within the ceremonial circle to make mud seed balls that could be planted just as they were. What a wonderful idea! I have one sitting on the table waiting to be Earthed until I receive a message as to where it should go…

 

We then entered the building for the actual seed exchange – an unbelievable abundance of seeds were spread out on table after table. With so many to choose from it was hard for me to make choices. I chose seeds that I wanted to grow, herbs in pots, a few kernels of blue corn, some hardy flowers. I did not take more than I needed but even so, I will have plenty to share because if I have a garden it will be a small one…

 

Iren and I wandered down to the river to eat our lunch and when we returned a celebration was in full swing with lots of hot food, music, and dancing. The joy was contagious! David Garcia’s music has no parallel in these parts.

 

When we left we stopped to see some petroglyphs – there was one with an Indigenous woman holding one hand to the sky while earthing the other. This picture caught the spirit of the seed ceremony I had just witnessed in a pictorial way.

 

As a woman with northern Indigenous roots and a dedicated seed saver for most of my adult life I was so grateful to be able to participate in a communal tradition so dear to my heart.

Seed Ceremony on Earth Day

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(Above) The seed basket I was given to place seed offering – curiously I have a little dog basket like this one at my home in Maine.

On Earth Day I attended a Genizaro/Tewa all day presentation called “Seeds of Hope and Healing” which espouses a way of thinking that acknowledges the sanctity and power of untreated seeds to create uncontaminated food for all people.

In the pamphlet given to each participant it states that “The New Mexico Food and Seed Alliance was formed in 2006 following the Seed Sovereignty Declaration in which farmers from tribal, Pueblo, acequia communities, and other farmers signed a declaration to defend seeds from genetic contamination.

 The name of these annual gatherings in three languages beginning with Tewa recognizes Indigenous peoples as seed savers and guardians of countless generations of seeds. It also recognizes that land- based people have borrowed from and added to these traditions with seeds and food traditions from around the world. The Indo –Hispanic people who are mestizo, or of mixed ancestry (Genizaros) have evolved a land-based culture after centuries of growing food in their respective villages…

 The seed exchange and gathering is an affirmation of the unity that is possible between cultures and this unity is necessary to defend seeds so that future generations can continue… to save seed and grow their own food.…

Four Northern Pueblos participated in the 12th Annual Owningeh Tah Pueblos y Semilles Gathering and Seed exchange: Abiquiu, Santa Clara, San Juan, and Taos. The group’s mission statement includes saving not only seeds but extends to protecting animals, fruit trees, and wild plants for the purpose of sustaining a way of life that has been in existence long before Europeans set foot in this country. It is only in this way that The People can continue to resist the global industrialized food system.

In the large room a sacred circle was created by the women, who put beautifully embroidered wide sashes and hand woven baskets in each of the four directions on a beautiful handmade blanket. The women also sprinkled corn pollen in the circle. There were two empty baskets to contain the seed offerings. In the center a beautifully painted white and black clay bowl was surrounded by two ears of corn on each of its four sides. People were asked to line up in four lines choosing the direction they came from: North, East, South or West.

The ceremony began with the leader who blessed the space, and added a prayer for the dead. He called forth the four lands and four waters making offerings to each of them. We all sat in a circle around the simple altar. Small handmade baskets were handed out and we placed a few seeds in our baskets, and when it was our turn to enter the sacred space, we were asked to speak our names, state where we lived, and what seed(s) we were offering for a blessing. We moved around the circle counterclockwise (the indigenous way) leaving it after adding our seeds to the other offerings. The ceremony was solemn, and the experience was deeply moving.

What came next was a total surprise. The sound of drums beating in the distance gradually became more insistent as the Santa Clara dancers emerged from another room. Those that were gathered together witnessed an astonishing Rain Dance, (the first I had witnessed) that filled the room with its vibrant colors, sounds, and prayers that centered me so completely, that I too, became part of the dance. Every day we look to the sky in hopes that the rains will come.

The seed exchange occurred afterwards with people leaving with small envelopes full of seeds grown by another. A feast had been prepared for all the participants. Later in the afternoon three women spoke about the hope that comes with the seeds. How each contains new life, and that each seed is a miracle, a perspective that is also my own.

The young are the hope of the future and I was struck by the young women’s presentations from the Youth Alliance all of whom honored their mentors and were committed to passing on the traditions of the pueblos to which they belonged.

 

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The men spoke too and I remember mention of the spiral and how important this symbol was to the People. From the DNA spiral to the way a sunflower seeds up, to the shape of galaxies, the spiral is a universal life form.

Acknowledging “Truth of Place” one man spoke earnestly about how this land was their church. This land, her mountains her waters all sustained his people generation after generation.

One member of Abiquiu pueblo talked about the history of the Genizaros who until recently went unrecognized, although Abiquiu was given a Land Grant in 1754. Genizaros were Indian children and young women who were sold or traded and became Hispanicized, losing touch with their Native roots for a time. Today both Indian and Hispanic festivals are held in Abiquiu to acknowledge these once invisible people.

The day ended with Los Genizaros de Abiquiu closing the ceremony with an Eagle Dance. The two participants, Dexter Trujillo drummer and singer, and the Eagle Dancer, Maurice, dressed in flaming orange and red feathers were spell binding to watch as they moved towards and away from each other. The eerie sense I had was Maurice actually became an eagle.

A seed pot made by Indigenous artist Roxanne Swentzell was presented to Abiquiu Pueblo in recognition of its Genizaro status.

For a person like myself, who has been something of an “earth mother” tending to, and saving seeds for much of my adult life, this ceremony felt like the first recognition of the importance of this work over the span of one woman’s lifetime; I am 72 years old. Even though I will be returning to Maine before the summer begins I will carry this ceremonial recognition close to my heart. I couldn’t help thinking about the datura and redbud tree seeds that I had tenderly been germinating for the last month. Most, if not all, will find homes here in the desert, but I am content, knowing that I have participated in the spring planting for one more cycle. I am absurdly happy that wildflower seedlings are popping up where there were none before! Soon, I believe, redbud trees will follow.