Members of the Gun Lake tribe in Michigan celebrate the return and harvest of an heirloom corn variety at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Photo: Punkin Shananaquet.

‘Indigenous farmers are ‘rematriating’ centuries-old seeds to plant a movement’ examines the relationships between indigenous stewards, sacred heirloom seed varieties, and the academic institutions that seek to foster their reunion. 
Matthaei-Nichols curator David Michener is featured in ‘Indigenous farmers’ alongside Jessika Greendeer, Ho-Chunk nation member and farm manager at Dream Wild Health. Michener and Greendeer discuss the necessity of rematriation, or the reunion of plants, lands, waters, and other sacred resources to their original Indigenous relatives. 


Michener has partnered with representatives from the 12 federally-recognized Anishinaabek tribes of Michigan – an organization known as MACPRA – for the initial framework to rematriate seeds from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archeology (UMMAA) – the third-largest ethnobotanical seed collection in North America.
If tribes knew the sheer size of the cache, Michener says, “Every sovereign nation is going to want to know what seeds are there, and if they are alive.” As well as how to approach the UMMAA for seed rematriation – why the process-establishment is an essential, respectful first step.

Curator David Michener showcases the heirloom mandamin (corn) grown at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Photo: David Michener.


Planted in the sheltered space between greenhouses, the heritage seeds project grows heirloom crop varieties to be reunited with their indigenous relatives.

The Heritage Seeds project, a multi-year collaborative pilot initially funded by the Graham Sustainability Institute, completed its fourth planting and harvesting cycle in late 2021. Specific heirloom mandamin (corn) and sister crops, coordinated with Dan Cornelius of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, are in this phase grown at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for return to the indigenous communities from which the seeds originate. “Each community has its protocols of how to move forward with these as well as seeds currently in the UMMAA. We move at the rate of trust.” Michener says.
“The truth is there is so much work to be done together, and we’re grateful to learn from and work with our Tribal partners on this and other initiatives.” Director Tony Kolenic added.
Read the full article, by Kalen Goodluck, here!