Abenaki Seed Packets

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of blog posts written by students in Professor Martin’s NAIS 400: Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of New Hampshire. To learn more about the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor, visit https://cola.unh.edu/interdisciplinary-studies/program/minor/native-american-indigenous-studies 

By Isabel Cole (NAIS Minor ’24)

The studies of agriculture and horticulture, traditional foods, sustainability, foraging, and ethnobotany have recently been used at different gardens, museums, and seed saving projects. Seed saving is an important way to preserve heirloom plants, and including historical and ethnobotanical information on seed packets can help maintain traditional gardening practices as well as demonstrate Indigenous survivance in New Hampshire. 

Ancient Indigenous families originally lived off the waters and lands by hunting, fishing, and gathering edible plants throughout the seasons, including wild onions and marsh marigolds (Berton-Reilly 2016). When Native people were forced to relocate to reservations in the 1800s, food rationing contributed to food insecurity and health issues (Berton-Reilly 2016). Today some modern Indigenous people continue to rely on refined commodity food from an industrial food system (Berton-Reilly 2016). Common diet-related diseases among Indigenous people facing food insecurity include diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (Reed 2016). Thus, continued access to traditional foodways and heirloom seeds is an important issue for Native people (Reed 2016).

Liz Charlebois (Missisquoi Abenaki) has been the Chairperson for the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs and the Educational Director at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, NH (Reed 2016). To help preserve traditional foodways here in New Hampshire, Charlebois started projects at Mt. Kearsarge to teach traditional planting methods, provide traditional Native foods, and preserve over 50 different plant varieties in a seed library (Reed 2016). The seed library includes rare squash varieties and the Jerusalem artichoke (Reed 2016). These projects get people back to the foods their bodies are made to eat and are very empowering and nourishing for native communities (Reed 2016).

Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH also grows native heirloom plants that connect to Native American history, such as cranberry beans. Their herb garden is a space for sharing stories of plants origins and history (personal communication, John Forti). Their Community Garden also offers engagement with the plants from the past. Along with partnering with local farms to sustain heirloom plant varieties, Strawbery Banke started a seed bank that works with the Piscataqua Seed Project to sustain heirloom plants (personal communication, Erik Woccholz). These seeds are a free and valuable resource that can be used by the community.

Denise Pouliot (Abenaki) believes we need to get Indigenous foodways into practice by participating and utilizing resources instead of keeping knowledge and resources in museums (Pouliot 2020). She suggests finding farms that have unused land so that BIPOC communities can grow traditional gardens where Native people can share traditional knowledge. Growing Native foods in traditional ways builds stronger communities, is healthier for individuals, and helps to heal the land (Berton-Reilly 2016). Indigenous people in New Hampshire want land and food sovereignty and to have the ability to grow their traditional heirloom foods. 

Works Cited

“‘Abnaki’ – CornellBotanicGardens.” Cornell University, https://cornellbotanicgardens.org/?s=abnaki Accessed 22 Dec. 2020.

Abenaki Heritage Garden Brochure. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1101651.pdf Accessed 22 Dec. 2020.

Berton-Reilly, Elizabeth Ann. “Our Corn Is Still Standing: Indigenous Foodways and Identity in

New England.” Digest: A Journal of Foodways & Culture, Winter 2016, https://digest.champlain.edu/vol5_issue1/rn5_2_1.html#references

“BRIT – Native American Ethnobotany Database.” Native American Ethnobotany DB,

http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=abenaki Accessed 22 Dec. 2020.

Pouliot, Denise. “Contemporary Indigenous Peoples of New Hampshire: Honoring Mother Earth through Sustainability.” Sidore Lecture, UNH, 23 Nov. 2020. https://cola.unh.edu/center-humanities/events-programs/sidore-lecture-series 

Rawal, Sanjay. Gather. 2020. First Nations Development Institute. (Documentary Film.)

Reed, Elodie. “Woman Works to Preserve Indigenous Foods, Native American Culture.”

Concord Monitor, 22 Nov. 2016. https://www.concordmonitor.com/Indigenous-food-traditions-Thanksgiving-Warner-NH-6283706 

Links for photos used on the seed packets:

https://www.seedsavers.org/roys-calais-organic-corn?gclid=CjwKCAiAoOz-BRBdEiwAyuvA6wBJftPxNRUyKBj2_p7dzzlvsa6w8ye7uPre610LgStSodTeSCIPtxoCF9UQAvD_BwE – Corn

https://lenoyau.com/en/product/abenaki-vermont-cranberry-bean-climbing/ – Red bean

https://migardener.com/store/99-seeds-by-category/all-seeds/squash/squash-early-white-bush-scallop-summer/ – Squash

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/jerusalem-artichoke-sunflower-artichoke – Jerusalem Artichoke

https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/sustaining_forests/conserve_enhance/special_products/maine_ntfp/plants/sweetgrass/ – Sweetgrass