An ancient variety of squash that was all but lost to history is now being rediscovered.

Native Americans in the Great Lakes region have cultivated this squash for centuries, and now tribes are sharing the seeds with each other and with small farmers to bring the plant back.

Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Mich., is among those that acquired seeds from this mystery squash. And the farm's Sarah Hofman-Graham says they didn't know what to expect when they planted it last year.

"I definitely didn't have a firm idea of what kind of squash it was going to grow—or even what the plant was going to look like," she says. "It was just a fantastic surprise."

The seeds grew into massive bright orange squashes, each more than 2 feet long. Hofman-Graham invited me to a dinner party featuring a soup made from the ancient squash — it tasted sweet and mild.

The seeds passed through a couple of pairs of hands before they got to the farm. But they started with Paul DeMain, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. DeMain says his seeds originally came from the Miami tribe in Indiana and are thought to be from a line that's somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 years old.

"The squash and the seeds that are going around now have provoked quite a bit of excitement in the native community because it is an indigenous seed," he says.

DeMain says several stories have circulated about the seeds' origins and that it's possible several stories have morphed together over time. According to one story, the seeds were found in a clay vessel that was unearthed during a construction project in Wisconsin.

"There were seeds in it that were regrown," Demain says. "And allegedly these seeds were dated [to] about 850 to 900 years ago."

Seeds of the ancient squash, called Gete Okosman. 

"As communities begin healing after a hundred years of decline — of displacement — it comes along with a revival of the language, the revival of songs and ceremonies," he says.

One tribe in Michigan wants to make sure these seeds stay around a lot longer.

In a small basement room in the Jijak office, there are dozens of glass jars on wooden shelves, with native varieties of corn, beans, tobacco, watermelon and ancient squash.

Finney opens a jar of the seeds of the ancient squash, called Gete Kosman: Gete means ancient, or something from a long time ago, and kosman is the word for squash.

"They're big, just like the squash. And they're "really fat, and that's a good thing for a seed," Finney says.

He calls the ancient squash "heroic."

"This squash has re-emerged. It's an ancient, lost and forgotten thing. It's a champion for all of these seeds," he says. "They were forgotten, and all of them are making their re-emergence again."

"There is spirit within those seeds," she says. "So that's why we want to keep revitalizing things like this, and keep building things like this, to provide for those next seven generations," she says. "And also thinking about those ones that were in the past seven generations, that because of them, we're here. Because of them, those seeds are still here as well."

She calls the work they're doing "food sovereignty" — growing their own food in traditional ways, on tribal land.

 The seed library maintained by the Jijak Foundation contains dozens of native varieties of corn, beans, tobacco, watermelon and ancient squash.

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