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'Cool old squash'

It's back to the future with seeds of hope

By Carolyn Pogue


About 850 years ago, an Ojibwe gardener made a hollow ball of clay, dried it, placed dried squash seeds inside and sealed it up. The gardener kept the seeds safe over winter. No small child would play with them, no mouse would steal them, no one would step on them by accident. We don’t know exactly who that gardener was, but the ball was discovered in an archeological dig on the Menomonee Reservation, Wisconsin in 2013. The seeds, to a plant thought to be extinct, had been put away one autumn 300 years before Cartier or Columbus — before any but Indigenous peoples lived here.

Fifty large, bright oragne squash flourished. Winona Laduke from the White Earth Land Recovery Project named it Gete Okosomin, translating it as “really cool old squash.” These seeds and their story are now making their way around Turtle Island, hand to hand. The squash is delicious. The seeds, which were often eaten the way we eat peanuts, are packed with nutrition, a story and hope. I met this cool old squash in Orillia, Ont.

At the time, my husband Bill Phipps and I were at St. Paul’s United Church, where he preached the Sunday morning jazz service along with Reverend Dr. Ted Reeve. We participated in their first Inside Out Festival, which complimented the Orillia Jazz Festival. Art, music, creative round table discussions, crafts and celebrations of structural changes to the building (glass entry doors replaced fortress-type wooden ones!) filled the weekend.

Over the past year, the congregation has planted many new seeds of change in the community, so story-telling also featured prominently. One beautiful story was of the street-side garden planted by Audrey Bayens, which featured information about the vegetables, with an invitation for passersby to pick and sample the vegetables.

Feasting, of course, is part of any church celebration, and there was plenty of that. I met the squash Friday night in the kitchen. Jacob Kearey-Moreland, who works with the Toronto Seed Library, presented Gete Okosomin to Ted Reeve. He’d received the seeds from an Elder in Winnipeg who is involved in the Seed Library there. Jacob told the story of the discovery and how the seeds are now travelling ambassadors for reconciliation gardening —  reconciliation among peoples and with Earth. The squash was opened, the seeds extracted for drying and sharing, and the squash popped into the oven.

Jacob’s story piqued my curiosity about other ways the seeds are bringing people together. The numbers of co-operative, local food movements, land recovery, rooftop urban gardens, community gardens, intertribal gardens, medicine gardens and indigenous farming conferences are the best news to warm our hearts as winter approaches.

I have carried 18 seeds home to Alberta and will find a way to share them with Treaty 6 and 7 people here. The seeds, in many ways, herald a unique “back to the future;” perhaps the Ojibwe gardener of long ago dreamed it all into existence.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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