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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has teamed with the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish (NHS) College in an agreement to conduct research supporting Indigenous Seed Sovereignty. 

This collaborative effort will increase the number of traditional seed varieties for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation crops.

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"As we celebrate our one-year anniversary, ARS is excited to announce that we have produced new seeds and seedlings of vital native crops which will be distributed to MHA Tribal members this spring via NHS College,” Dr. Simon Liu, ARS Administrator said. “Our partnership with NHS College enables us to gain a better understanding of the unique agricultural research needs of tribal communities.”

This agreement builds upon USDA’s strengthened partnerships with tribal communities to advance food sovereignty and ARS’ efforts to further incorporate tribal research priorities, including Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge, into its research portfolio.

This partnership came to life in 2023 with a blessing of garden space, a traditional way of preparing for a successful harvest, after discussions between ARS and NHS College emphasized the need to expand NHS's seed cache and increase seed accessibility to MHA's tribal members.

“ARS’ partnership with NHS College will improve seed health through multiplication, germination, and viability. It also includes data collection to determine the traditional use and characteristics of MHA Nation’s traditional varieties. This work is essential for protecting seed intellectual property, providing data to support increased consumption, and demonstrating the link between traditional varieties and health while sharing cultural protocols and traditional ecological knowledge throughout the project.

During the project’s first year, ARS researchers at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) in Mandan, North Dakota, successfully grew a wide range of traditional crops necessary for seed and seedling distribution. The yield included eight varieties of corn (totaling 28 gallons of corn seeds), seven varieties of squashes (totaling over 500 squashes), four varieties of beans (producing half a gallon of seeds), and more than 150 of one variety of watermelon (over 150 watermelons) grown on half an acre. 

The NHS College established a Project Advisory Team that includes representatives from each of the three Tribes. This team provides direction on strategies to increase the number of seeds, to determine seed distribution, to collect program data, and to integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge within the project.


“By reconnecting the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people with our traditional seeds, we are bringing life back into the relationship between our seeds, our people, and our land,” said Dr. Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills, Director of NHS College's Food Sovereignty Program. “This act of seed sovereignty also strengthens our tribal food system and provides access to nutrient-dense foods that our people’s DNA recognizes and remembers.”

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