Wampum Belt that was created to mark the occasion when, in 2019, Kingston’s Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul gifted the seeds from their Heirloom Seed Sanctuary to both Ratinenhayén:thos, a non-profit organization dedicated to the sustenance and growth of the Kenhte:ke Seed Sanctuary and Learning Centre (KSSLC) in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and the Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI). Courtesy Photo

KINGSTON – It was a reunion of sorts when three non-profit organizations came together virtually to renew their commitment to seed rematriation.

The April 23 event saw attendees signing into Zoom from all over North America, eager to see what Ratinenhayén:thos and the Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI) have been doing with the seeds received from Kingston’s Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. In 2019, the Sisters of Providence closed their Heirloom Seed Sanctuary in Kingston, gifting the seeds to Ratinenhayén:thos and KASSI. “The Sisters of Providence are very pleased to have been part of the important work of the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary,” Sister Diane Brennen said. “We are happy to continue to connect with the two community groups that received our seed collection.”

Ratinenhayén:thos is a non-profit organization dedicated to the sustenance and growth of the Kenhte:ke Seed Sanctuary and Learning Centre (KSSLC) in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. The KSSLC is dedicated to growing heirloom and Indigenous seeds, including those specific to the Rotinonshyon:ni, and ensuring the availability of healthy, local seeds for the next seven generations.

KSSLC’s Tehohsén:nake Jeffries emceed the event. Following the introduction, KSSLC garden intern Chloe Maracle provided viewers with a slide presentation filled with photographic updates of the organization’s many activities, beginning with where it all started with the Sisters of Providence and their Heirloom Seed Sanctuary.

“Thank you everyone for joining us this morning and taking some time to be with us and listen to our updates and some of the challenges we’ve had and the success that we’ve been able to achieve over the past year,” Maracle said. “I wanted to specifically acknowledge the relationship that we created with the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, and this first photo here is actually one of the group tours that took place when the initial talks and discussions were going on, so this is at the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary, and this was the first of three tours that was given there to talk about the collection and what all was included in caring for the seeds.”

KASSI vice chair Kathy Rothermel spoke on behalf of KASSI, providing an update on how things have progressed in the past year. KASSI was founded by local farmers, backyard, and market gardeners, and concerned community members. The group’s stated mission is “to increase seed and thereby food sovereignty for the Kingston region.”

“What I actually want to do today is share three short stories of hope. I want to share a little bit of updates on where we are with KASSI and I want to do it in terms of not so much what we’ve been doing but what we’ve been thinking about and what each board member in our community or volunteer group has been doing for us this past year,” Rothermel said. “We’re a small group and we’ve been trying to do an awful lot of different things and I think we’re trying this year to really look at what we value and what we need to do. We’ve been growing out a fair bit of seed now these last few years. That’s great, which is fantastic, but we need more people to actually be using those seeds and incorporating them into your life.”

She said KASSI chair Cathy Christie has been going to local community and gardening groups in Kingston to give presentations about seeds. Rothermel said the group is hoping this outreach work will aid in encouraging more people to use the seeds.

Following Rothermel’s update, singer-songwriter Wendy Luella Perkins, who is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, sang a few songs in celebration of seeds. She also sang the popular song, “We’re All Connected.”

Christie shared some testimonials. She also shared, with permission, a diary page of one of her Queen’s University Education Department students, who has been learning about seeds. The page included drawings and notes about seed saving, including the following: “Seed saving is protection, a responsibility, and a freedom. It is our responsibility to carry these valuable gifts forward and to protect them.”

Sister Sandra Shannon shared the history of the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary. She also spoke about the wampum belt that was created to mark the occasion in 2019.

“It took two hands working together in sewing the beads,” she said. “Our hope continues to be that most groups will stretch beyond themselves in fostering healthy regional seed systems among individuals and groups so that a vibrant network of growers could develop through education, outreach, and engagement activities. When we passed on the seeds, we pledged to dedicate ourselves to the preservation of a healthy ecosystem that would bring life to the seeds.”

Both KASSI outreach committee chair Dianne Dowling and Yakothehton:ni (Jennifer Brant) also spoke at the event. To learn more about The Sisters of Providence (providence.ca), KSSLC (kenhtekeseedsanctuary.com), and KASSI (seedsgrowfood.org), visit their websites or follow them on social media. For more on Perkins and her music, visit here website (wendyluellaperkins.com). Also, Yakothehtón:ni – Jennifer Brant has a catalogue of videos on YouTube (youtube.com/channel/UCislm8Rsn5WDshJd_Gedw1g/featured). Brant can also be heard and seen on rematriation.com where she retells the evolution of this story.