Diane Wilson Diane Wilson

About the Author: Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson (Dakota) uses personal experience to illustrate broader social and historical context. Wilson’s memoir, Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past, won a 2006 Minnesota Book Award and her nonfiction book, Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life, was awarded the 2012 Barbara Sudler Award from History Colorado. She is a descendent of the Mdewakanton Oyate and enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation. Wilson currently serves as the Executive Director for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance.

The Seed Keeper - Discussion Questions

Like Reads for The Seed Keeper

An Interview with Diane Wilson

Growing up in Minneapolis, I knew that my mother was enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and spent six years attending the Holy Rosary Mission School on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This great, unexplained difference between my mother’s life and mine created many questions about our family’s cultural identity. As an adult, these questions eventually inspired me to begin writing. My first book, Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past, was a memoir about five generations in my mother’s family, using their story as a way of understanding how assimilation works over time. My second book, Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life, was a non-fiction collection of interviews with elders that offered an understanding of historical trauma and how to transform that experience into a better way of life for our children.

As I was writing the book, I considered the seeds to be very much one of the characters, along with the four women whose voices tell the story. The seeds provided the broadest framework or context for the story, which was the Original Agreement between human beings and seeds to care for each other. The opening poem—which emerged from a writing exercise in developing each character—speaks to the way that human beings are no longer upholding their responsibility to this Agreement. In a broad sense, the story that follows shows the way back to caring for our seeds, and the earth. The seeds also have a brief closing poem so they essentially book-end the story told by the four Dakota women.

In 2000, I began volunteering for a tiny garden that was growing out a few handfuls of rare, indigenous seeds that were saved by families for many generations. As I began learning more about these seeds and their amazing stories of survival, I was also learning about traditional gardening, which was primarily done by Native women. Traditional gender roles for Dakota women were focused on caring for the lodge, raising children, and tending gardens and all other food sources. They were also leaders, visionaries, and culture bearers for their people. As part of my writing process, regardless of genre, I also do a great deal of background research so that my books are historically accurate.

I’ve learned through my research and in speaking to many groups that our public schools and institutions have provided little education about the history and experience of Native people in this country. Until recently, much of what has been told has been written by non-Native scholars and historians. Telling the story of Rosalie and her family gave me the opportunity to share the little-known story of how important our traditional foods are not only to cultural identity but to the health of our planet.

The question that I ask throughout the book is how our relationship to indigenous seeds, and the earth, has changed over many generations. And what does that change mean for us as human beings? And for the seeds? My hope is that readers will reflect on their own relationship to the world around them and find ways to reconnect. Despite all the horrific events that continue to assault us—politics, pandemic, violence—stepping outside and appreciating the earth’s beauty and generosity offers the healing we need to protect what we love.

Essay: The Importance of Native Food Sovereignty
By Mariah Gladstone

Mariah Gladstone

The story of food is interwoven with power on this continent. Colonizers used food as a weapon of control as Native people were pushed from their homes and their lands were taken. In the early days of the United States, George Washington initiated a military campaign to march against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (the six Nations of the Iroquois), burning their food stores, fields, and gardens. This strategy continued across the West. Speaking about Native peoples, in 1850 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report wrote, “It is cheaper, in the end, to feed the whole flock for a year than to fight them for a week.” With this motivation, the US encouraged and openly promoted the eradication of bison on the prairies. Bison populations plummeted from over 20 million to less than a thousand. Nations that relied on buffalo were forced to change their diets to government rations. Native people were forced onto reservations and the land further partitioned off in an effort to destroy their community food systems.

Families were also destroyed in this process. Children were stolen from their parents and put in government and church-run boarding schools. Though this was considered the progressive option at the time, the children were subjected to sickness, extreme violence, and sexual abuse, and were forbidden to speak their languages and practice their culture. The oft-repeated goal was to “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Traditional knowledge was taken from them and Native peoples were left in new cycles of trauma.

Despite all of this, traditional foods and the information about them still hold the key to restoring wellness. Native people know that while our food nourishes us, we also have a responsibility to take care of the places where our food comes from. Growing and harvesting our own plants connects us with the water, soil, air, weather, and all the other life that surrounds us. We learn reciprocity through our caretaking. The knowledge that was stolen can be regained in the same way our ancestors learned it: on the land. With a better understanding of the web of connections that weaves our ecosystem, we can realize ourselves as a part of that system.

Take time to learn about the landscape on which you live. Learn about the animals and plants. Learn about the waterways and the mountains. Find the gifts that they have been offering and start to perform the caretaking you have been neglecting. Learn about the people whose lands you inhabit and how they were taken from that place. Finally, recognize that trauma can be healed through connection. Perhaps you will find that healing in a garden, in a berry patch, or around a table filled with family and friends.

Bio: Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet, Cherokee) graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Environmental Engineering and completed her Master's Degree at SUNY - ESF through the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She developed Indigikitchen (a portmanteau of Indigenous, digital, and kitchen), an online cooking show dedicated to re-indigenizing our diets using digital media.

Essay: The Indian Child Welfare Act
By Sheri Freemont, J.D.; Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Omaha

The Indian Child Welfare Act Essay

Connection—our human need to be with one another, with community, with love. We say “keep in touch” when we are at risk of losing connection with someone. Losing a connection can become grief. For indigenous people and other peoples who have endured genocide or forced loss of connections with their peoples, languages, lands, and cultures, the need to reconnect with all these lost aspects of ourselves can be incredibly difficult, painful, and life-changing.

For most indigenous peoples, we know that every child is born to a family, a mother, a father, to aunts and uncles, to grandparents and grandparents’ grandparents, a clan, a people, the land. Their tiny vulnerable bodies fed and nurtured and loved by their whole family. Named in their cultural traditions, spoken to in their languages, loved with indigenous knowledge and practices.

Yet, in this country, for shameful motives, indigenous children as young as three were taken away by the government for generations. Sometimes by force, often by threat. Known now as the boarding school era, tribal children were taken away from communities and family so that the government could “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man.”

Talking about genocide is difficult and uncomfortable. History has been clearly documented that the idea to make tribal people more white, rather than literally wipe them out, was tactically and explicitly decided by the government as not only cheaper but likely more acceptable in the world’s eyes. The more blatant and obvious tactics of child taking later became less plain and more nuanced, and arguably still applied in the spirit or rhetoric of benevolence. The boarding school era was followed by the adoption and assimilation eras. Tribal communities and families continue to make efforts to reconnect and heal where it is possible. In so many cases, the loss has been insurmountable.

The children taken to the boarding schools were taught to lose all their Indian-ness. Children who were intentionally adopted out to white families learned similar lessons. When tribal children in foster care are placed in a family or home that is not connected to the child’s family, culture, or tribe, the risk of loss continues....

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1978 to mitigate the ongoing harms of indigenous (tribal/native) children’s and families’ loss of their connections. Today, the ICWA continues to help indigenous families who are hurting and have many challenges to heal and keep their families safely together, rather than simply re-assign the indigenous child to another family. The Act requires that when it is necessary for a tribal child to be removed from their home and parents as the only way to keep them safe, that the State government who makes that decision must try and place those children with other relatives or tribal people.

Thus far the ICWA has survived constitutional challenges due to truths that the Supreme Court has had a difficult time reckoning with: that tribal nations on these lands have rights as nations. Thus, when children and families are protected by the ICWA, and States are restricted or limited in separating them, it is not because those people are racially “Indian,” but rather members of pre-existing and still-existing nations, struggling and fighting to remain what we have always been: connected communities of indigenous people, bound by language, love, culture, land, and values.

The ICWA continues to be challenged, almost exclusively by white foster families who feel that their love for a child they voluntarily and temporarily cared for is their entitlement, despite the breaks of connection and harm such a surrender could bring for the child and the community and tribe the child is inextricably bound to. That the broken hearts of white families when a tribal child is moved to a tribal home is portrayed as anti-White racism is shameful. The rights of a child and a colonized people to remain connected is the correct framing. Connection to our people, to our tribes, to our cultures is fundamental.

Bio: Sheri Freemont is and Indigenous layer (Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Omaha), currently working with Casey Family Programs, a national foundation aiming to reduce the need for foster care.

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Essay: A Personal History
By Rachel B., Daughter of the Tlingit Nation

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed into legislation in 1978. In simple terms, this legislation is meant to help protect Native children from the U.S. government and white Christian churches. In 1819 the government started paying white Christian churches to forcefully take Native children from their parents and bring them to boarding schools. In these “schools” Native children were not allowed to speak their language, practice their own religions, wear traditional clothing, keep their traditional long hair, eat traditional foods, etc. These children were starved, beaten, and forced to become Christians. An estimated 50,000 Native children were killed in these “schools.”

Rachel B

As a result from bad publicity, the “schools” started to close. Although the government’s plan of forced assimilation through boarding schools failed, they found other avenues to eradicate Natives. They encouraged social service agencies (by offering additional funding) to remove Native children from their families and place them with “good Christian families.” Often children were removed even if social services had no evidence of abuse or neglect.

Generations of children grew up in boarding schools, group homes, and church-run homes, which has led to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and complex PTSD. These disorders manifest in ways such as alcoholism, drug addiction, poor life skills, and broken communities. A lack of resources and willingness by white society to acknowledge the core of these issues has kept these problems persisting in tribal communities....

My grandmother was taken from her family and forcefully sent to a boarding “school.” She was an alcoholic when she gave birth to my mother. My mother was taken from her and raised by her alcoholic aunt who had similar trauma as my grandmother. My mother grew up in a semi-broken home in a broken community. I was born nine years after ICWA was passed in 1978, generations after the U.S. government and Christian churches had been separating Native children from Native families. My mother, who is full-blooded Tlingit and is an enrolled tribal member, was an alcoholic when she had me. When I was removed from her care, through ICWA, the state of Colorado was legally required to notify my tribe so they could make arrangements for me to remain connected to the tribe and get enrolled myself. This did not happen. Instead I was placed with a white Catholic family. A family who desperately wanted to “save me” from my Nativeness; a family that the state of Colorado saw as inherently better for me than my own people, because they are “a good Christian family.” They viewed it similar to missionary work and if they could save my savage soul that is clearly what God would want for me and them.

my culture, traditions, or history. My adopted mother used to tell a very true story as a joke that when the social worker asked her how she planned to provide for my cultural needs, my mother responded with, “Well, I have a walrus in the freezer.” It was told as a joke because that’s how they viewed the question: a joke. They had zero understanding that my being separated from my culture, traditions, and ancestors would create trauma that none of us would have any capability to address.

What I was raised to understand of my people is that I was destined to be fat, lazy, diabetic, and probably an alcoholic. This is what my white adoptive mother understood about Natives, and is what she instilled in me. No one had ever sat her down and said, “Natives are fat, lazy, diabetic, and often alcoholic,” it’s just the stereotypes used by society, the government, and the Catholic church to reduce Native people and justify our continued Genocide.

Most of my life was shaped and controlled by colonizer ideals and systems. Today I work to decolonize my mind, community, and world. I am learning my history, culture, and traditions so I can live in a good way. I invite you to join me. Learn about your pre-colonized history of your ancestors and learn to walk in a good way with them.

Bio: Rachel is Two-Spirit citizen of the Tlinglit Nation. She works every day to decolonize and re-indigenize her heart, mind, and spirit. She believes her ancestors are proud of her work.

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The Final Five: Adult Readers

The following books were considered along with The Seed Keeper .

After the Last Border by Goudeau, Jessica
Intimate and enthralling storytelling brings you into the life of two female refugees and their families. In each chapter we learn about their pre-immigration lives, their family, why they left respective county, and the story of their new life in Austin, TX. Easily digestible sections on immigration policy are interspersed throughout.
Graham Fox, Community Librarian, Redmond Library

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Camino, in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira, in New York City, unknowingly share a father. When he dies unexpectedly, the two young women must come to terms both with their loss and with his secrets. Written in verse that is sharp, lyrical and whip-smart this novel is an auditory revelation. Highly recommended, especially the audiobook.
Jenny Pedersen, Community Librarian, Downtown Bend Library

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
An utterly unique story for adults that pulls at your heartstrings. It weaves themes of self-love and appreciating each other’s differences through unforgettable magical characters and a lovable protagonist you root for until the very end.
Rya Fennewald, Community Librarian, Downtown Bend Library

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng
Told in alternating chapters from the past to the present, family traditions are at the center of this story about love, immigration, culture, and growing up. Feng’s debut novel is filled with grace and honesty. It is a poetically written book that talks about family struggles, yet leaves readers with optimism.
Paige Bentley-Flannery, Community Librarian, Sisters Library

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