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Regrowing the past to preserve the future: Cultural heritage preservation through the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project

Ball, Samuel K.
Traditional foodways of indigenous peoples worldwide face the risk of loss in an increasingly interconnected and modernizing world. To prevent further loss of culture, reclaim food sovereignty, and improve community health, many indigenous groups are taking steps to protect these foodways. Currently, no academic literature focuses on the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma's Pawnee Seed Preservation Project which has brought back 18 varieties of ancestral Pawnee corn since the project officially began in 1998 through collaborative efforts between both Pawnee in Oklahoma, and non-Pawnee growers in Nebraska. This paper examines the affect of the project on preserving Pawnee culture and traditions through semi-structured interviews conducted with five Pawnee Elders with ties to the project. The findings indicate a strong correlation between corn grown through the project continuing to help shape Pawnee identity, traditions, spirituality, ceremonial uses, and influence a younger generation to get involved in the growing process. Supplementary findings also show optimism towards health improvements related to the reintroduction of this corn into the diet of the tribe, possible business and scientific endeavors associated with growing the corn, as well as a strengthening of relationships with non-Pawnee growers who have been essential to the project's success.