Cultural Seeds empowers Indigenous traditional agricultural practices

Celeste Smith

MANITOULIN – Celeste Smith, who owns the company Cultural Seeds, is another First Nation  entrepreneur who has reached the semi-finals in the Powwow Pitch competition.

“I’m from Oneida but I came here (Manitoulin Island) two years ago, originally to help Shirley Cheechoo run her film festival, but then COVID-19 came along,” Ms. Smith, who lives on Meadowlark Lane just outside of Gore Bay, told The Expositor last week. 

“I had been a teacher/professor in Niagara and worked at Niagara College in traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge and have been an urban gardener for the past 30 years,” Ms. Smith said. Ione Anderson, “my great aunt, was a great agriculturalist in Six Nations in Brantford, Ontario. I had always thought after university I would be able to learn everything my aunt had taught me concerning traditional Indigenous agriculture.  But then she passed away, so I felt I needed to go back and learn in using traditional Indigenous techniques and seeds for farming. Many Indigenous people do not have knowledge or background information on what our people plant and raise to eat properly. That is why many of our people have diabetes, and suffer strokes for instance, because they are not eating what they are supposed to as Indigenous people. Sugar, for instance, does a real number on us, it is a killer, and because so many of our people don’t have knowledge on our traditional foods and techniques used, many elders get sick.”

However, “there has been a resurgence in gardening, using our own traditional techniques planting our traditional seeds for farming, as well as plants,” said Ms. Smith. “That is why I opened up my own business focusing on traditional Indigenous seeds and plants. In my company, Cultural Seeds, for instance, I have five or six traditional types of corn seeds that can be planted. My aunt’s legacy was having seeds that when grown would produce dark blue corn. And when I would teach at Niagara College, students would ask and inquire as to why the corn was blue, red, white or green.”

“I would explain that is what Indigenous people used to eat, and the seeds they used has been passed down over generations,” said Ms. Smith. “Our mission is to empower Indigenous people to reclaim traditional agricultural practices to help heal ourselves, our communities and our world. That’s part of my specialty, we specialize in heritage and rare plants from Turtle Island, and sell and trade seeds, live plants and consulting services all rooted in traditional ecological knowledge. These seeds and plants are not genetically modified. My aunt’s blue corn, for instance, is full of minerals and vitamins.”

“In our business, Cultural Seeds, we specialize in heritage Indigenous bread seeds,” explained Ms. Smith. “These seeds have been handed down from generations and have no additives or been genetically modified or altered; such items as tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers and many other vegetables and plants.” 

“And the bred seeds we sell are more climate resistant as well as being more nutritional and better for people all. “Each First Nation would have its own type of seeds. For my people corn was our specialty, and corn grows amazingly on Manitoulin Island.”

“A lot of First Nations have bought our seeds to be used and passed down in their community. Serpent River has bought corn and squash seeds for their community programs,” said Ms. Smith. “We are a small operation, I set it up and am running it myself, but it is growing with new programs are developing.” 

“My pitch for the (Powwow Pitch competition) is a new project that is going to be pretty amazing. The We Will Plant Lodge is a program we’ve partnered on with RavensWing Farm with Chuck and Linda Willson in Ice Lake, to co-farm the land. We will be building a centre for traditional agricultural knowledge and will be offering on land training, reclaiming the traditional techniques and items to be planted and grown and be a place where elders and students can come to learn traditional agricultural practices.” 

“Chuc and Linda have offered space on their farm for the program,” said Ms. Smith. “A lot of the time Indigenous farmers don’t have access to farming lands like this, in this case they heard what I was doing, and loved the idea, they said I use their land for this program. They have the land and I have the traditional agricultural practices knowledge and together we are going to be able to bring this to the community. I see this as being a beautiful partnership,” she said, adding “we will probably break ground on the program next spring.