Dine Nation Declared GMO and Pesticide-Free Zone

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By Britnae Purdy

The Diné Nation has now been declared a GMO and pesticide-free zone. The declaration is the result of the “Corn is Life” Gathering held September 19-21 at Diné College, Tsaile, Arizona. The conference was hosted and presented by the Black Mesa Water Coalition, the Diné Policy Institute, Traditional Diné Farmers, and the International Indian Treaty Council.

Dine’ Hataali Avery Denny opened the gathering by saying, “Before there were human beings, before there was man and woman, there was the corn. The spirit of the corn, the corn song, the corn pollen – they were always here. Take care of your family corn. It is a sacred being. It is who we are and how we are made. Listen to that song. Learn your language. The corn is praying for you to come home and be healed.” Corn is one of the four sacred plants to the Diné, or Navajo, people along with squash, beans, and tobacco.

The conference’s stated goal was to discuss the impacts of climate change, genetic modification, pesticides, and extractive industries on traditional growing practices. At the end of the conference, participants agreed to stand against these harmful practices. As the final declaration read,

“We will do our parts to protect our traditional seeds, plants, and methods from many current threats such as climate change, mining, and extractive industries, genetic modifications, capitalism and privatization, government land use regulations, pesticides, mercury, uranium, coal and other toxic contaminants. [Our seeds] are the source of our survival, today and in the hard times that are coming. We therefore declare the Diné Nation traditional homelands to be a zone that will be kept free from genetically modified seeds, plants, and animals as well as toxic pesticides. In that way it will be a healthy and safe place for our traditional seeds and plants, and our children and future generations to live, survive, and thrive within the boundaries of our four sacred mountains, Diné Bikéyah (Navajo Homeland) in good health, tranquility, and beauty.”

The announcement comes in the wake of growing public controversy over the safety and legality of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Though many Indigenous farmers currently do not use GMO seeds or chemical pesticides, they still risk exposure to harmful effects from them through drift pollution and pollination by traveling insects. Many fear that consuming genetically-modified produce will bring as-of-yet unknown health consequences, and others argue that the overuse of pesticides produce “superweeds” and “superpests” that threaten traditional crops.

A territory-wide ban on GMO and pesticides will help reduce that risk, protecting traditional crops and agricultural methods. Soybeans, canola, cotton, and corn are the most commonly modified crops in the United States, and currently over 90 percent of all corn grown in the US is genetically-modified. The use of genetically-modified seed has increased immensely over the past decade – in 2000, only 25 percent of corn in the United States was genetically modified. The ban will apply to a significant amount of land – the Diné Nation is over ten million acres of land, stretching across northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southeast Utah. Its land is larger than the combined areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and is home to about 250,000 Diné.

In their resolution, the Diné cite the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 31, which states that “Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies, and cultures, including…seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora…” The resolution in its entirety may be read below.

(Photo: Traditional Dine Corn Harvest, courtesy of Berenice Sanchez)

 

Declaration of a GMO- and Pesticide-Free Zone, Dine’ Nation Territory

Indigenous Peoples “Corn is Life” Gathering
September 19 – 21, 2013, Dine’ College, Tsaile, Arizona
Hosted and presented by Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine’ Policy Institute, Traditional Dine’ Farmers and the International Indian Treaty Council

Before there were human beings, before there was man and woman, there was the corn. The spirit of the corn, the corn song, the corn pollen — they were always here. Take care of your family corn. It is a sacred being. It is who we are and how we are made. Listen to that song. Learn your language. The corn is praying for you to come home and be healed.”
– Dine’ Hataali Avery Denny, opening presentation, September 20th, 2013.

Nahasdzaan doo yadilhil bits aadee bee nahaz1anii (The laws of Mother Earth and Father Sky) set forth the rules by which we are instructed to interact and care for the natural world, including the plants and animals we use for our foods and medicines. The Dine’ emergence story includes the four sacred plants that are the basis of our physical and spiritual life in this world — the corn, squash, beans and tobacco. They place, hold and sustain us within the four directions and the universe as we understand it. They are the foundation of H0zhq (holistic well-being).

We understand that resisting and undoing the many negative impacts of colonization for our Peoples means restoring what was taken from us in that process. These include our lands, waters, traditional learning and teaching systems, corn and other seeds, food and medicinal plants and animals, sacred places, and the health and well-being of our families and clans.

We agree that these sacred elements and k’é (relationships) are of absolute necessity for restoring the practice of our food sovereignty and for our spiritual, cultural, physical, social and environmental health, identity and survival.

We share these understandings and teachings with other Indigenous Peoples and Nations throughout this continent who also hold the corn to be sacred.

We affirm that the inherent, collective right of Self –determination of Indigenous Peoples is not possible without Food Sovereignty and self-sufficiency. This was well understood by the colonizers who tried to destroy our traditional crops, seeds and food animals in order to control and subjugate our Free Independent Sovereign Nations.

We express profound appreciation and gratitude to our ancestors and traditional elders who kept our original decolonized practices, knowledge, seeds, creation stories, ceremonies and languages alive and well into this modern time despite many challenges, sufferings and struggles.

We recognize and thank all the traditional Indigenous farmers who work on a daily basis to maintain and strengthen our traditional food systems, resources and knowledge, to keep these things alive for all of us.

We commit to do the same for our young people and coming generations. We will do our parts to protect our traditional seeds, plants and methods from many current threats such as climate change, mining and extractive industries, genetic modifications, capitalism and privatization, government land use regulations, pesticides, mercury, uranium, coal and other toxic contaminants. They are the source of our survival, today and in the hard times that are coming.

We call upon the Navajo Nation Council and other Tribal leaders to stand with us in protecting the corn and other life-giving food resources in their traditional forms, natural diversity and original integrity. They are the solutions that are essential for our survival, and the basis for our own understanding of our human rights, Treaty rights and sacred responsibilities as Indigenous Peoples and original human beings.

We therefore declare the Dine’ Nation traditional homelands to be a zone that will be kept free from genetically modified seeds, plants and animals as well as toxic pesticides. In that way it will be a healthy and safe place for our traditional seeds and plants, and our children and future generations to live, survive and thrive within the boundaries of our four sacred mountains, Din4 Bikeyah (Navajo Homeland) in good health, tranquility, strength and beauty.

We affirm that the process to bring this about must begin immediately. We commit to take collective and individual action to implement this declaration through our own practices, and to build the necessary understanding and awareness among our Peoples, Nations, leaders and policy-makers, as well as our youth and coming generations, to make it a continuing reality.

“The Dine’ have always been guided and protected by the immutable laws provided by the Diyin Dine’ e, Nahasdzaan and Yadilhil; these laws have not only provided sanctuary for the Dine’ Life Way but has guided, sustained and protected the Dine’ as they journeyed upon and off the sacred lands upon which they were placed since time immemorial”
– 2 N.N.C. § 102 Fundamental Law of Diné

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including…seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora…”
– Article 31, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to plant a new seed in the minds of our young people in every generation so that this knowledge will continue to grow.”

– Hataalii Avery Denny
Agreed by consensus, September 21st, 2013, Dine’ College, Tsaile, Arizona

With thanks to Dine’ College, Keepers of the Earth, the Nature Conservancy and the Christensen Foundation as well as the presenters and participants for their contributions to this gathering