For countless generations Hopi people have maintained a way of life that enabled the continuance of long standing food traditions and food security. All efforts put forth to cultivate, gather, harvest, store, and preserve seeds for the next season, as well as the preparation of foods have been considered sacred duties and responsibilities. This has kept families strong and generations nourished.
As Hopi people, our storage of corn and other vegetables and fruits ensured our survival for the coming years despite drought or a sparse harvest. Our elders shared teachings that related to perseverance. We were taught to have at least three years of food in storage to ensure our continuance. As Hopi women we are taught to value our corn. We are taught special songs to sing to our corn as we store it and special ways that we prepare our foods to provide nutrition and health to our families.
We understand our connections to our food as being the same as our connections with our children and relatives. This is a special and unique relationship that has shaped our culture and enabled our people to be healthy both spiritually and physically.
Within the past fifty years, particularly after WWII, we have seen a drastic change in Hopi food traditions with the introduction of processed commercial foods and the decline of farming and gardening practices. This has led to the loss of traditional knowledge associated with the cultivation of a diverse array of vegetables, gathering of seasonal and medicinal plant foods, the storage of foods, and the preparation of traditional meals.
As Hopi we have developed a culture by which we are adaptable to change. Our current food patterns reflect these changes. For instance many families rely strictly on local and regional grocery stores and supermarkets for their subsistence while others supplement this food with traditional foods and maintain fields and gardens.
The Indigenous Peoples of the southwest have developed very unique ways of producing food in what many consider a harsh and dry environment. Through the understanding of the seasons, rains, seeds variety, and through prayers, we have successfully developed self-sufficient food systems. The various tribes created their own unique spiritual identity and complex ceremonies that helped reinforce their relationship and obligations to their agricultural activities.
The decline in traditional agricultural activities and diets has resulted in a very devastating impact in our communities as well as in many other Native communities. We are witnessing an alarming rise in diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure—conditions all related to the change in lifestyles and diet. It is important to look at this change in relation to what is happening at a global level so that we may begin to find solutions as communities that will help to strengthen our health and livelihood.
Today, the world is facing an ethical and dangerous issue--the reality of Genetically Engineered Food (GEF) or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) entering our global food supply and, eventually, our community supermarkets and dinner tables. This latest scientific advancement threatens our global food security and our biological diversity of foods in many significant ways.
Genetic modification of life forms is the process of taking the gene of one species and forcing it into another gene of an entirely different species. This is accomplished through the introduction of the gene of one organism into another that, in nature, would not naturally mix or complement one another. A classic example of this is taking the gene of a flounder fish and injecting it into that of a tomato in order to achieve frost resistant varieties of tomatoes that will last longer through shipping and storage. The process of doing this is even more alarming as scientists use bacteria and viruses to invade cells of certain species to manipulate their DNA.
Monsanto Corporation now produces various kinds of genetically modified seeds that cause concern with human health and the impacts on the environment and ancient heirloom seeds such as the seeds of our ancestors.
Very little is known about their human and environmental impacts. Yet the US government is allowing the people to consume this produce. Most of the foods we buy from grocery stores are GMOs, and presently we do not have the right to know which foods are. Here n the U.S., companies are not obligated to label their food products as genetically modified nor give explanation of possible health impacts. This leaves the consumer with the responsibility to conduct research and find out what is being eaten in foods purchased from the grocery stores.
Some of the GMO seeds from have escaped into the environment and have contaminated farmers’ seeds. Corporations have taken advantage of this to gain more control over the global seed supply. Governments have supported this by forcing farmers to discontinue saving the seeds that have been contaminated, forcing them to buy seeds from these corporations.
This is a call to all traditional farmers. We need to understand how unique and special our local heirloom seeds are for they are the direct connection to our ancestors. They are the gift of life given to us and we are responsible to pass that on to the future generations. If we are not careful, and import GMO contaminated seeds, we will lose control of our traditional seeds. This will further force us to become dependent to these extractive and dangerous corporations such as Monsanto.
As we take advantage of the blessing from this winter’s precipitation, keep in mind the unique variety of seeds that have been in the community for generations. We must protect them from being taken away from us and strive to increase our seed bank to ensure that these seeds will be carried into the future.
Please be aware of where you get your seeds and make sure that they are not contaminated. The best protection is to continue to use our local seeds and to find out what types of seeds we are purchasing when we buy seeds from outside sources. It is very important to know whether we are growing Genetically Modified Organisms because of the risk of contamination to our neighbor’s fields and to our seed diversity.
We would like to encourage you to continue to learn and grow foods for your families in order to strengthen bonds to the land and to continue our cultures as self-sufficient peoples as our ancestors intended. We wish you a plentiful growing season and health to your friends and families.