Just the other day my friend Dr. Kristin Dowell, an anthropologist who works with Native American communities, suggested I look into a project called Native Seeds, a seed bank and cultural memory bank based in the southwest. It am so excited about the information that I had to post about it.
Started in 1983, this organization was one of the founders of RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions ), and safegaurds seeds native to Native American communities in the southwest. What’s even more amazing is not only do they safegaurd the seeds, they also maintain what they refer to as a Cultural Memory Bank. Their website explains it this way:
“In the late 1990s, NS/S undertook to expand our seed bank efforts to include a cultural component, integrating cultural information – the agricultural practices, stories, songs, and recipes associated with specific crops in the seed bank – with our existing database of collection information. In effect, we would combine the geneticist’s concern for conserving unique traits of a crop with a folklorist’s concern for conserving oral history about the crop.”
Creating the Cultural Memory Bank was not a part of the original plan. According to their webpage, they actually set out to interview elders and share this information with those outside of the community. But in conducting the interviews with elders, they soon began to realize that this traditional knowledge was desperatly needed within the community as well. So they began documenting the stories of the elders in the community for the younger generations. One of their first projects was a student-centered CD-Rom focusing on Navajo agricultural traditions. Their work in documenting the community for the community is ongoing.
Additionally, anyone can order the seeds and try them out. In fact, if you plan on growing the seeds you can also become a part of the Gardener’s Network where you provide feedback and share your experiences about growing the seeds.
A Model for Human Rights Education
In preparation for a grant writing project for Kentucky Remembers!, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what makes education human-rights based. What is human rights education anyway? Human Rights education is not just about the subject matter. It’s also about the approach. In other words, it’s not just about the kind of knowledge that’s being shared but also how that knowledge is being shared. I am constantly on the lookout for education programs that connect human stories with our daily lives and help us connect our daily lives with others daily lives. Stories that teach us how to take care of our fellow humans, take care of the land, take care of ourselves.
What I like most about the mission of this project is its ability to be intrinsically open and forever ongoing. For example, the goal of keeping a cultural memory bank is not just about the past. It’s about the future. And why just save the seeds for the communities from which they came? Instead, they share these seeds with anyone who wants to grow them.
I think, ultimately, what human rights education is about is making connections between ourselves, our community, and world. But for human rights education to be sustainable it has to not just teach us what those connections are, but also provide insight and inspiration which can in turn lead us as humans to to be more diligent in understanding how these connections fit together and to begin to look for these connections on their own.
I think a big part of what human rights education is teaching and learning how to always be asking, ‘how do these things work together?’
What do you think?