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Planting Seeds With Greasewood and Siblings

Yá’át’ééh shí éí Willson Atene, Tóchiinii Nishłí, Tachiinii Báshishchiin, Ashiihí Dah Shí Cheii, Tł’ízí Łání Dah Shí Nálí. Tséł Báhídi shighan, t’áádóó Halgaitódéé éí nááshá. Greetings my name is Willson Atene, I am Bitterwater, born for the Red Running Into Water People, my maternal grandparents are the Salt People and my Paternal Grandparents are the Many Goats. My Home is from the Train Rock region, but I am from an area called VCA, or Vanadium Corporation of America. 

It has been many years since my family had a garden. Since I was a child I remember seeing dams filled with water from monsoon rainstorms. In the past, many Diné families from my community of Monument Valley dry farmed. When you visit the trading posts within our community, you can see pictures of big corn fields. I come from a family of 11, including my parents. Some of my siblings are out of the house, and have started their own families. Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we have seen shortages of food from our local grocery store. As a family, we decided to grow our own food this year and break the chain of relying heavily on commercialized food.

Having the privilege to running water, this year I decided to create a garden close to my home, so it would be easier to water and take care of. The Seeds Program from Utah Diné Bikéyah donated drought-resilient seeds to my family, and I had some blue corn, white corn, and yellow corn seeds that my mom had kept. Seeing the seeds sit on the table in our traditional basket on the day that we were going to plant gave me a sense of resilience. I knew that this is the first step toward living in subsistence, like our great grandmothers and grandfathers. 

Planning and starting the field was a family effort, and every one of my brothers and sisters played a role in helping build and finish our garden. We started by hoeing the weeds out of the garden, then we raked and cleaned the garden. It has been a while since we planted anything, so I called my great-grandmother, and asked what we needed to do to start the planting process from a traditional, cultural state of mind. She instructed me to look for a greasewood branch, one where the base is wide and thick. My great-grandma never went to school and the only way to communicate with her is in Diné Bizaad, or Navajo. After the call my three brothers, sister and I went down to Oljato Wash, which was less than a mile from my house, and started our search. We eventually came across a whole field of greasewood brushed along the banks of the wash, and I briefed my brothers and sisters on what kind of greasewood we needed. About an hour passed before we found one. I had the axe, but before we cut the branch we made a small prayer and offered some corn pollen. After we cut the branch off from the greasewood brush, we made our way home where we debarked the branch and tested its density, just in case it should break on us.  

It is cultural teaching that we moisten the ground with water, before we can plow the ground with the greasewood branch. We took our blue bucket, turned on our hose and filled it with water. We then took off our shoes and sprinkled water all around the garden. It is also tradition that on the day we plant we wear no shoes, but walk in the garden with our bare feet until after the seeds are put into the ground. That is the only time you can be barefooted in the garden; after the seeds are seeded, then one has to wear their moccasins or shoes in the garden. With the ground moistened it was easier to dig. Almost at sundown, we started to plant our seeds. We filled the holes with water, then placed the seeds inside the holes, then we covered the holes and watered them again. While we were planting we were speaking to the earth and the seeds, telling them that we are going to harvest you and we will take care of you. 

We are like corn and our lives grow like corn. We are seeded into the ground and then we are rooted into the Earth. At some point in our lives, we grow ears of corn and those are our kids and grandchildren. It represents all the life that we are going to create. Some day they will be seeded and rooted as well. Our future children will reciprocate this cycle of life, and grow like the tassel on the top, where the corn pollen is found. The teachings of our elders say that when we reach old age we greet it, and we ourselves become corn pollen and make our journey. I believe that now is the perfect time to reconnect to our traditional food systems of foraging and agricultural practices. 

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