Taylor Keen – Tribal Truth Seeker

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Taylor Keen, just before an Omaha tribal war dance

Taylor Keen is a teacher, community builder, and Native American thought leader based out of Omaha, Nebraska.  His back story is as diverse as it is impressive—he’s a member of both the Omaha Tribe and the Cherokee Nation, attended Dartmouth College (BA) and Harvard University (Masters of Public Policy, MBA), and enjoyed a successful stint in corporate America before returning to Nebraska to teach entrepreneurship and management at Creighton University.  His most recent undertaking is Sacred Seed, a project with the goal of preserving Native American heritage and history through collecting, growing, and spreading the seeds of corn and other traditional Native American foods.

Just before planting…

The writer Wallace Stegner theorized that people generally fit into one of two categories—“Boomers” or “Stickers.” Boomers are “those who pillage and run” and want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street.” Stickers are just the opposite—they are “motivated by affection, by such a love for place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.”1  Taylor is the walking embodiment of a Sticker.  Given his drive, intelligence, and education, he could’ve followed the path of the Boomer and pursued any number of careers.  But a deep love of his Native American heritage and his community called him back home to teach, lead, and live a life devoted to service of others.  It’s an inspiring story.

…and full bloom.

I could’ve talked to Taylor for hours and I only asked about a third of the questions I had prepared, but we still managed to dig into a wide variety of fascinating topics.  We discussed the history and mission of Sacred Seed and where he sees the project going in the future.  We talked about his path from the West to the Ivy League, the decisions that led him to transition from corporate America to higher education, and some very interesting Native American history.  One of my favorite parts of our conversation was Taylor’s recounting the advice he received from his grandfather soon after graduating from Harvard Business School.

This was a very enlightening conversation for me, and I greatly appreciate Taylor taking the time to chat.  I encourage you to visit the Sacred Seed website and watch the video—you can find links to everything we discuss in the episode notes on the webpage.  Enjoy!

All photos courtesy of Taylor Keen

1 Wendell Berry, It All Turns on Affection (2012)


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:55 – How Taylor describes his work
4:00 – Sacred Seed Project
5:35 – Early beginnings of Sacred Seed
9:00 – Discovering the importance of seed banking
10:00 – Threats to native seeds from large corporations
11:45 – Difference between Omahas and Cherokees
13:50 – How Taylor found his first ancient seeds
15:55 – How the plants compliment each other, Four Sisters
20:45 – How Sacred Seed has changed Taylor
22:40 – The link between elders and the ancient ways of planting
25:30 – Fall festival
26:45 – Future plans for Sacred Seed
29:20 – Taylor’s changing approach to the project—MBA to Holistic thinking
33:45 – Similarities between Sacred Seed and the reintroduction of bison
36:45 – The fight for sustainable agriculture
37:10 – Meaning of Omaha
38:10 – Where Taylor grew up
39:00 – Taylor’s journey to the Ivy League
41:15 – Biggest surprise when moving east
43:55 – Harvard graduate school and corporate America
45:35 – Taylor’s grandfather’s wise advice
49:25 – Discussing Sebastian Junger’s Tribe
51:00 – Taylor’s thoughts on the importance of tribes
53:50 – Best books for learning about Native American culture
56:45 – Taylor’s advice to his younger self
58:00 – Other favorite books
1:02:50 – Taylor’s request of the audience
1:06:00 – Connect with Taylor online

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