Courtesy Grand Canyon Trust
Ruby Chimerica teaches youngsters to prepare parched corn, a traditional Hopi snack.

Fight Climate Change by Preserving ‘Our Ancient Knowledge’ Tribe Says With New Exhibit

Grand Canyon Trust News
3/11/15

The Colorado Plateau Inter Tribal Gathering is fighting climate change by preserving its ancient dry farming practices. A new exhibit “Preserving Our Seeds and Farmer Knowledge” showcases efforts by elders and leaders from 12 tribes to preserve dry farming practices that have allowed native peoples to flourish for thousands of years and protect ancient crops, including corn, from GMO contamination.

Ground zero for climate change, the Southwest is projected to experience some of the most drastic temperature increases and declines in precipitation in North America. In the past, tribes might have simply moved elsewhere, but with the federal reservation system and limited neighboring land available, they had no choice but to stay put. 

The exhibit honors six years of work by a coalition of elders and cultural leaders from 12 Colorado Plateau tribes to ensure that traditional farming and ancient food preparation practices, as well as tribal teachings and stories key to adapting to climate change, are passed on to the next generation. The group also works to restore springs, create farmers markets, protect heirloom seeds, keep out GMOs, and protect sacred sites by revitalizing traditional intertribal networks. Many Intertribal Gathering members are farmers and have witnessed changes in temperature, wind, rain, soil moisture levels and encroachment of genetically modified seeds. 

Diné master farmer Rosemary Williams with her corn crop at Kerley Valley, where her family has farmed for generations. (Courtesy Grand Canyon Trust)

“At our level of agriculture, Hopi agriculture, we’re seeing climate change on a scale that I never thought I’d see …I’m only 51 years old, and I’ve seen changes [that] are going to greatly impact the way we grow and produce and self-sustain,” says traditional Hopi farmer Leonard Selestewa.  

“Our young farmers are totally confused by rising temperatures, drying springs, volatile wind patterns, and genetically modified seeds invading our communities. Our best chance at survival is to preserve our ancient knowledge," says Grand Canyon Trust Native America Program director and Inter Tribal Gathering facilitator Tony Skrelunas.

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In the face of climate change, Gathering members are mentoring local farmers to raise high-yield crops with scarce water supplies and prepare traditional foods. They’re also working to establish farmers’ markets that support local food systems. A tribal-based community workshop series on preserving heirloom seeds and keeping out GMOs takes a “local planting party” approach, bringing together community members to restore watersheds, springs, and irrigation systems, build rainwater catchments and plant crops.

The new exhibit offers youth the opportunity to learn about traditional tribal farming through hands-on activities and interactive videos. A series of free monthly workshops on watershed restoration, heirloom seed preservation, and traditional farming begins March 25.  

"We need a learning place within our community open to everyone, from kids to elders. Only by bridging the generation gap can we save our culture,” says Alicia Tsosie of Food Corps.

It is the inaugural exhibit of the newly opened Inter Tribal Learning Center. The exhibit will be open by appointment, March 16- September 31.

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