New Partnership With Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Protects Natural and Cultural Resources

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina. The Tribe lives in the western part of the state, part of its traditional homelands. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina. The Tribe lives in the western part of the state, part of its traditional homelands. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Climate change is upon us, and communities who use wild-harvested native plants for food, medicine, and cultural practices are identifying ways to protect their natural and cultural resources.

The need to prepare for further climate change in the future and mitigate its effects on natural resources in the Southern Appalachian region has led to a new partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research StationNorth Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Because American Indian communities are often place-based and natural-resource dependent, the impacts of changing climate and landscape patterns could limit their ability to gather and use resources as a community.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has developed a wealth of ethnobotanical knowledge over many generations. Protecting this cultural heritage – while recognizing that tribal knowledge is proprietary – is one of the goals of the partnership. The partners are also interested in integrating western and traditional ecological knowledge, and recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a framework for sharing information, monitoring, research, and resource management planning.

Through the partnership, seeds and other genetic information – collectively called germplasm – from culturally significant native plants will be collected and stored safely at the North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository. Most seedbanks focus on agricultural crops like corn, wheat, and others, but the Arboretum focuses on ethnobotanicals native to the Southern Appalachians. Edible and medicinal plants like ramps, black cohosh, and sochan (which is also called green-headed coneflower) are some of the species whose seeds may be stored under the terms of the agreement.

Climate change could affect the timing and availability of these resources, and reservation boundaries mean that tribal members have limited options for off-reservation gathering or harvesting. By identifying and documenting traditional natural resources in the Southern Appalachians, the partnership aims to protect natural resources, as well as the Native American communities that rely on them.

For more information, email Monica Schwalbach at mschwalbach@fs.fed.us.

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