Cultivating the Seeds of Renewal

In "The Seed Keeper," a Dakota woman digs through a difficult past

By Wendy Becktold

March 7, 2021

The Seed Keeper, by Diane Wilson (Milkweed Editions, 2021), begins with Rosalie Ironwing, recently widowed, returning after 28 years to her childhood home: a cabin along the Minnesota River. At 12, she was taken away after her father died suddenly. She hopes to make peace with her past, but there is little trace of the generations that lived there. "The names of my family were like whispers just beyond hearing," she narrates. "My family's stories had already disappeared."

With her father, Rosalie learns Dakhóta traditions, hunting and listening to the old stories. Her teenage years, though, are spent with an unloving white family. She marries a white farmer, and while her life with him is not unhappy, her history and identity are increasingly erased.

The storytelling moves back and forth through time and to other characters, including Rosalie's great-great-grandmother Marie Blackbird, who endures the aftermath of the Dakhóta uprising in 1862 and her family's forced relocation to Crow Creek, South Dakota. Amid the upheaval, Marie's mother saves the family's precious seeds by sewing them into the hems of the women's skirts.

Rosalie inherits the descendants of these very seeds just as she has inherited trauma compounded over multiple generations. The seeds symbolize her awakening as winter thaws into spring and she finds a community that knows her family's story and helps her hear the whispers.

The Seed Keeper is a deeply empathetic portrayal of a character grappling with a vibrant heritage complicated by pain, loss, and dysfunction. Ultimately, Rosalie comes to terms with who she is, understanding that for her, survival itself is a remarkable feat.

This article appeared in the March/April edition with the headline "Seeds of Renewal."

More Online Learn about Diane Wilson's work with the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance: