Seeds contain DNA, which have stories. The Cherokee Nation has found innovative ways to preserve those stories by storing important indigenous food crops.
Earlier this month, the Cherokee Nation’s principal chief, Chuck Hoskin Jr., delivered heirloom seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Noted as the first US tribe to receive an invitation to deposit samples, the Cherokees donated nine varieties of beans, corn and squash that predate European occupation of the Americas.
“It is such an honor to have a piece of our culture preserved forever. Generations from now, these seeds will still hold our history and there will always be a part of the Cherokee Nation in the world,” said Hoskin to the Anadigosi newsroom.
Chuck Hoskin Jr., Principal Chief of the Cherokee
Given to the Svalbard storage vault were Cherokee White Eagle Corn, the tribe’s most sacred corn used at cultural activities and ceremonies. As well, seeds such as the Cherokee Long Greasy Bean; Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans; Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans; and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash.
“These plants represent centuries of Cherokee cultural and agricultural history. They provide an opportunity for Cherokees to continue the traditions of our ancestors and elders, as well as educate our youth in Cherokee culture,” told cultural biologist, Feather Smith to Food and Wine magazine.
As the Cherokee White Eagle Corn tells a story, so do other seeds. The Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans traveled with Natives forced to migrate to Oklahoma in what is known as, “The Trail of Tears.”
Top: Heirloom seeds donated to Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo from Cherokee Nation official IG page. Cherokee Nation. Photo from Cherokee Nation official IG page. Bottom: Cherokee Trail of Tears beans.
Global seed diversity initiative
Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a storage facility in a remote mountainside in Norway. It has the capacity to hold 4.4 million seeds in case the world experiences a grave disaster or catastrophe. Currently, the vault holds 980,000 seeds.
The invitation from Svalbard Global Seed Vault came after an NPR interview with Pat Gwin, the nation’s senior director of environmental resources. During the chat, she spoke of a years-long initiative by the Cherokees to collect native food crops from its citizens.
The seeds go under Svalbard’s “black box” regime, which means that only the institutions that deposited them have the ability to retrieve them. “Knowing the Cherokee Nation’s seeds will be forever protected and available to us, and us only, is a quite valuable thing indeed,” said Gwin in a CNN interview.
The deposit by the Cherokees was part of a larger deposit of 60,000 seeds by 36 groups. Reports The Verge, other donors include Thailand, the US, Ireland, and universities and research centers from Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Lebanon.
In 2019, Cherokee officials expanded a distribution seed program where they doled out almost 9,000 heirloom seed packets of 24 varieties. This year, they’re passing out 10,000 packets of 2 varieties.
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