Barney Burns, a co-founder of the nonprofit Native Seeds/SEARCH seed conservation organization and a vigorous supporter of native cultural traditions, died Thursday. He was 69.
Burns and his wife, Mahina Drees, “collected most of the seeds in our collection,” said Chris Schmidt, interim executive director of Tucson-based Native Seeds/SEARCH. Burns, Drees and two others founded the organization in 1983.
“He also worked closely for decades with indigenous communities” in Mexico, Schmidt said. “He was a person of incredible intelligence and compassion. He was also an incredible storyteller and repository of knowledge. His was an irreplaceable mind.”
Martha Burgess, a longtime friend of Burns, lauded him for his work in conserving not only seeds, traditional crops and farming methods — but also the crafts and traditions of native cultures, including the Tarahumara people of Mexico.
“He had an awareness of traditional agriculture,” Burgess said. “It was in large part his vision that in order to keep the farming traditions and the seeds alive, you had to help the people continue living on their homeland.”
Burns, a co-author of “The Other Southwest: Indian Arts and Crafts of Northwestern Mexico” — published in 1977 — and Drees traded with people from the region, buying and selling their creations.
“It was a way to support those communities and cultures by providing markets for their crafts,” Schmidt said.
Burgess emphasized that Burns “encouraged the best quality of crafts in native cultures at a time when some of these crafts were diminishing or being lost.”
She said Burns had Parkinson’s disease, but she said it’s not known yet if the cause of his death was a result of the disease.
Plans are pending for a memorial gathering, Burgess said.
Survivors include Drees, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law.