Teaching Cherokee Indian Youth about Culturally Important Plants

Forest Service Southern Research Station Partners with Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Jerry Wolfe, Elder with the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians, was instrumental in providing knowledge of the Cherokee language in relation to culturally significant plants. Photo by Sarah Farmer, U.S. Forest Service.
Jerry Wolfe, Elder with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, provided knowledge about the Cherokee language in relation to culturally significant plants for the plant module recently developed for the Snowbird Youth Center. Photo by Sarah Farmer, U.S. Forest Service.

The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) recently partnered to develop learning modules for children attending EBCI’s Snowbird Youth Center in Robbinsville, North Carolina. The youth center is part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cherokee.

The plant module is the first learning module developed, and is now ready to be tested. The module is a fun and interactive series of activities for educators to use with children grades K-12 that focuses on 14 plants that are culturally significant to the tribe, such as white oak, flowering dogwood, ramps, sochan, and others. SRS and Bent Creek Experimental Forest staff developed the module with input from many experts, including the Snowbird Youth Center personnel.

Activities in the module include an audio game that teaches the Cherokee, scientific, and common names of the 14 plants. Supplementary materials provide information about traditional uses of each plant, as well as its ecological significance, ways to identify it, sustainability issues, and correct harvesting methods. The module also includes sets of small cards that children and youth can use outside to identify the plants, as well as information on creating a native plant garden. The tribe will also invite tribal elders and SRS scientists to help teach the modules to youth. After the modules have been used at the Snowbird Youth Center for 6 months, they will be re-evaluated and refined as needed.

Additional modules on climate change and water are also in the developmental stages. All the modules integrate traditional ecological knowledge from the tribe and scientific knowledge from SRS researchers. The goal of this partnership is to incorporate current science-based knowledge of the ecosystems where Cherokee youth live and to complement the traditional knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation.

SRS also seeks to nurture interest in ecology, botany, climate change, and other natural resource issues. Youth interactions with Forest Service scientists could perhaps inspire them to pursue careers with the Forest Service someday.

It is mutually beneficial for EBCI and SRS to develop youth who will become wise stewards of the Earth, and the partnership is an excellent example of EBCI and SRS working together to educate youth. Ultimately, the young people who participate in the program will develop a heightened awareness of the natural world around them – including the challenges they face in protecting cultural and natural resources.

Plant cards and other materials developed for plant module for EBCI Snowbird Youth Center. Photo by Julia Kirschman.
Plant cards and other materials developed for plant module for the EBCI Snowbird Youth Center. Photo by Julia Kirschman.

For more information, email Julia Kirschman at jekirschman@fs.fed.us.

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