'This Is History in the Making': Cherokee Nation Is First U.S.-Based Tribe to Preserve Seeds in 'Doomsday Vault'
The Cherokee Nation will save seeds from the "three-sisters" crops in the Arctic "doomsday vault," making it the first Native American tribe to ensure culturally emblematic crops will be preserved for the future, as The Guardian reported.
Never before has a Native American tribe received an invitation to store heirloom seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which lies in the permafrost over 800 miles into the Arctic Circle.
The Cherokee nation has donated seeds for nine varieties of corn, squash and beans to the vault, which has nearly one million packs of seeds from almost every country in the world, according to its own statistics. The vault has the capacity to store about 4.5 million varieties of seeds.
Included in the nine crops that the Cherokee nation sent is "Cherokee White Eagle Corn, the tribe's most sacred corn, which is typically used during cultural activities, and three other varieties of corn grown for consumption in distinct locations to keep the strains pure. Other seeds sent to the seed bank include Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans, and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash," according to Anadisgoi, the official Cherokee Nation newsletter. The crops all predate European settlement of the Americas and are vital to the Cherokee cultural identity.
"This is history in the making, and none of it could have been possible without the hard work of our staff and the partnership with the team in Norway," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said to Anadisgoi. "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."
As The Guardian reported, the Cherokee are only the second native peoples to deposit seeds into the vault. Their deposit follows the banking of 750 potato seeds from an indigenous Andean community.
The invitation to bank seeds in the Arctic stemmed from the Cherokee Nation's own seed-saving program, which distributes packs of heirloom seeds to tribe members. Just last week, the Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site started its annual distribution of seeds to any Cherokee citizen who requested them. Last year, it sent out nearly 10,000 packs of seeds, according to Food and Wine. The program has been running since 2006 and growing steadily.
"It's important that we continue to distribute these seeds every year," Feather Smith, a cultural biologist for the Cherokee Nation, told the Cherokee Phoenix, as Food and Wine reported. "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."
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault inspired the Cherokee seed bank. It has become a means to both save heirloom seeds and to also preserve Cherokee culture, Pat Gwin, senior director of environmental resources for the Cherokee Nation, said to NPR.
The NPR story caught the attention of Luigi Guarino, director of science for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, who contacted Gwin about having the tribe's seeds in the Global Seed Vault, according to CNN.
"The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank has always hoped to be able to deposit our traditional food crops into Svalbard one day," Feather Smith, Cherokee Nation cultural biologist, said to Anadisgoi.
"This is a tremendous opportunity and honor for the tribe," Gwin said in a statement, as CNN reported. "Additionally, knowing the Cherokee Nation's seeds will be forever protected and available to us, and us only, is a quite valuable thing indeed."
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Once the work of public researchers, plant breeding is now dominated by a handful of massive corporations, but there are still a variety of nonprofit organizations working to preserve biodiversity and ensure access to heirloom, open-pollinated seeds for generations to come. Here is a roundup of our favorites, including a few that sell seeds in order to raise funds—so you can support a good cause while doing your spring seed shopping.
Stewards of one of the oldest and largest seed banks in North America, Seed Savers Exchange boasts a collection of over 20,000 heirloom varieties—including more than 1,000 heritage apple trees—many of which are available in their online catalog. This Iowa-based organization also hosts a giant online seed swap, where dues-paying members can exchange their favorite varieties. If membership isn't for you, anyone is welcome to buy seeds.
Many modern seed varieties are simply not well-suited to organic production. That's why the Organic Seed Alliance actively promotes breeding organic-specific varieties. The Organic Seed Alliance also provides technical assistance to organic farmers on seed-related matters, and they are active participants in the fight to prevent transnational companies from gobbling up every last small and regional seed purveyor. While they support the preservation of heirloom crops, they also develop new seed varieties geared specifically for organic farmers, including the recent releases 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach and 'Who Gets Kissed?' sweet corn.
3. Seed Matters
Headed up by Nebraska-born seed-activist Matthew Dillon, this organization was formed a few years ago by the Clif Bar Family Foundation to promote public seed breeding and research—as opposed to corporate-backed research, which has dominated the field in recent years—and ensure that future seed development is focused squarely on the needs and interests of farmers. The Clif Bar founders provide funding for overhead expenses, but the group relies on grants and donations for all of its programs.
Have a particular love for the southwest? This is your group. in preserving agricultural biodiversity in the southwest? This is the organization for you. Based in Tucson, Arizona, Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H. is dedicated to preserving agricultural biodiversity in its corner of the country. The group's enormous seed library hosts a number of endangered and nearly extinct Native American seed varieties that were historically cultivated by desert tribes. Many of their seeds are suitable for planting in other regions, however, and are available for sale online and at retail garden centers.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, helmed by famed plantswoman Ira Wallace, is to the southeast what Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H. is to the southwest. Like its counterpart in the desert, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange conserves, exchanges and promotes traditional, locally-adapted varieties, many of which also grow well throughout the country and are available through an extensive online catalog. Uniquely, this group is based on a commune in Virginia, whose members share in the work of preserving, growing and distributing the seeds.
While technically not a seed saving organization, we felt it important to include the Organic Farming Research Foundation. It is one of the only groups devoted entirely to high-level organic farming research—a necessity for advancing the industry. Based in the organic farming hotbed of Santa Cruz, California, the group provides grants to both academics and actual farmers throughout North America to conduct practical experiments that help make organic agriculture more efficient and productive. Crucially, they also take their message to Capitol Hill, where they lobby lawmakers to provide funding for the cause.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Ryan Dunfee
The 14,351-foot summit of Colorado's Blanca Peak erupts 7,000 vertical feet from the pancake-flat San Luis Valley to its west and gains its incredible altitude in just six miles. From any vantage point north, west or south, the peak and the surrounding Sierra Blanca Massif groan improbably upward from the sagebrush plains. The contrast is striking. You can watch the seasons change just by following Blanca's ridges skyward until you see the high alpine blanketed with snow, which comes early in fall and stays late into summer.
For those looking to tackle all of Colorado's 53 "fourteeners," the site of Blanca is invigorating. Its relief speaks to the challenges ahead. The climb starts with a knee-wobbling trek five miles up a viscous fire road to the shores of Lake Como, where climbers camp for the night.
The next day, the remaining five miles to the summit are made up of a quick gain to the treeless alpine, a traverse through a glacial cirque underneath Blanca Peak, and then a final mile up to the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood Point and the steep, exposed north ridge to the peak. Once atop, the prominence of Blanca's summit affords outstanding views in every direction.
Those who make the climb up Blanca Peak know that it's an incredible mountain. But for Len Necefer, CEO of Natives Outdoors and an obsessed Navajo climber who has summited Blanca six times, there is more to tell beyond the visceral physical experience. In the Diné language, the peak is called Sisnaajini, and it marks the eastern boundary of the traditional Navajo Nation—the place where the sun rises to begin the day. Sisnaajini features in several Navajo songs that tell the chapters of the nation's history, and when Necefer climbs it, he is thinking not only about its incredible granite.
He also reveres it for the sacred place that it is, and wonders what the standard route to the summit was for his ancestors 10,000 years ago. A swath of private land on the peak's south side no doubt altered the prehistoric approach. Necefer also sometimes thinks about the 1874 Wheeler Survey, which claimed a first "recorded" ascent of Blanca despite finding a manmade rock structure on the peak—plain evidence of earlier climbers, likely Ute or Navajo.
But since the American education system does a terrible job of covering the pre-Colombian history of the United States, this added perspective on Sisnaajini—even the idea that it has another name to begin with—is lost for most non–Native American adventurers. To try to remediate this ignorance, Necefer started playing around with a very simple, nonintrusive tool to pique interest about the indigenous history of the outdoor places many of us love: geotags on Instagram and Facebook.
By providing outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to rename places with their Native American words—Mukuntuweap for Zion Canyon, or Babad Do'ag for Arizona's Mount Lemmon, for example—Necefer hopes to encourage those who already have a deep connection to a natural place to investigate that peak or landscape's indigenous significance and history. Along with partners like Joseph Whitson and his Indigenous Geotags, Necefer is trying to promote a deeper connection to landscapes and the passion to protect those places.
While Necefer doesn't expect that the European names of cherished outdoor places will be swapped out for their indigenous ones, he does hope that a greater understanding of the Native American histories of these places—places they have cherished, recreated on, and managed sustainably for hundreds or thousands of years—will increase public appreciation for them. And maybe even spur some people to respect those places more.
"It's not respectful to go climb a church," Necefer says. "That's a mainstream cultural norm. But the idea of respecting native sacred spaces in the same way is a pretty new discussion, at least on a national level." Necefer believes, for instance, that the campers at Lake Como who left the pile of trash that he stumbled across during his first visit to Blanca would have paused before doing so if there was any information to let them know it was a sacred Navajo site.
As Necefer has sought to increase awareness of Native American history, he has had to reconcile his own passion for outdoor recreation with what he initially perceived as restrictions surrounding how indigenous sacred sites "should" be respected.
"The first time I went to climb Blanca, I was pretty nervous," Necefer says. "I was worried about how I would be perceived in my community and in my family. But after chatting it over with them, it wasn't a problem—they just told me to be reverent of the place, and to behave myself."
Ultimately, he has come to the conclusion that outdoor recreation in sacred places is appropriate as long as a spirit of reverence accompanies it. "Some, but not all, native peoples think [these peaks] are too sacred to go to the top," he says. "But I think it's really important [to go to the top] because a lot of Navajo folks don't have the means to come and access these mountains and experiences, and it's great to share what it looks like up top, and get to know it, and impart that knowledge on others and share how fantastically beautiful [these places] are, to inspire others—and not just natives—to protect these places."
For Necefer, a visceral, intimate appreciation for place is the common ground on which all other appreciations are built.
Necefer points to the fraught history of Wyoming's Devils Tower National Monument as an example of how adventure can coexist with reverence. The monolith of stone is a sacred site for Northern Plains Indians, including the Lakota, Dakota and Cheyenne, who call the place "Bear's Lodge."
In the 1990s, a coalition of native nations asked for a voluntary ban on climbing the tower's renowned cracks in June, out of respect for the tribal ceremonies that take place at its base in mid-summer. Afterward, the number of climbers attempting the tower's routes fell from a monthly average of 1,200 to less than 200. "Provided the information, the majority of people will make appropriate decisions," Necefer says. (There is currently an effort under way to formally rename the tower Bear's Lodge, though it has met resistance from state and local politicians worried about the impact on tourism.)
The years-long campaign to establish Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah offers another example of how western ideas about conservation can combine with Native American traditions about sacred sites and land management. The effort to establish Bears Ears brought together five Native American nations that didn't always see eye-to-eye, and at the same time created new alliances between those nations and the outdoor recreation industry and conservation groups like the Sierra Club.
These sometimes insular communities teamed up to advocate for the national monument's establishment for both its cultural and outdoor recreational values. That alliance succeeded in avoiding the flawed conservation view of the area as a pristine "wilderness" free of people—an idea that can do great harm to indigenous communities by negating their history and connection to the land, along with their generations-long sustainable management of landscapes.
For Necefer, the Bears Ears campaign was an important milestone, even though the monument is now under attack by the Trump administration. The cooperation between indigenous tribes, outdoor recreation companies and conservation groups is exactly the kind of bridge building he is trying to promote with Natives Outdoors.
"Public lands is a gateway of talking about these other issues facing native peoples in the U.S.," Necefer said. "And there's more of a willingness in the outdoor community to go there because of that shared outdoor experience."
But ultimately, Necefer isn't hoping for the history of one culture or the other to get prioritized, but that our experience outdoors is further enriched with the knowledge of how our favorite places are cherished in a variety of ways. "It's a cultural shift in how we need to talk about mountains or places, but it doesn't need to be a confrontational conversation. How do we make these places inclusive of the history we all share every time we go?"
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration must conduct additional environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline, handing a limited victory to Native American tribes fighting the administration's decision to move forward with the project.
In an extensive opinion, Washington, DC District Court Judge James Boasberg sided with the tribes by agreeing the Army Corps of Engineers "did not consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, human rights, or environmental justice."
"This decision marks an important turning point," said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman. "Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Trump administration—prompting a well-deserved global outcry. The federal courts have stepped in where our political systems have failed to protect the rights of Native communities."
Boasberg did not order a shutdown of operations on the pipeline, which began pumping oil early this month. The tribes and pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners are ordered to appear in court next week to decide next legal steps, and the tribes are expected to argue for a full shutdown of pipeline operations.
Dallas Goldtooth, national Keep It In the Ground organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network, had this to say about the ruling:
"This is a huge victory for the tribal nations of the Oceti Sakowin, Water Protectors around the world and for the Indigenous leaders who led organizing efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
"We're ecstatic with the court's decision, and applaud the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne Sioux for continuing to hold the line and take the fight against the Trump administration and the Dakota Access Pipeline to the nation's courts. We hope this decision leads to the stoppage of oil flowing in the Bakken crude oil pipeline as a permanent remedy to protecting the drinking water of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Nations.
"Since the 1990s, our organization has been working to ensure the United States recognizes the need for environmental justice and for meaningful participation by Indigenous communities in permitting processes that will affect our sacred lands, inherent rights and access to clean water. We're seeing those efforts bear fruit, and now our movement has dealt a major blow to big oil.
"Despite underhanded, brutal tactics by Energy Transfer Partners to suppress Indigenous peoples, our movement will not be stopped. We will continue to support any and all efforts to divest from fossil fuels and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline once and for all."
For a deeper dive:
According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline's installation.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline's construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.
Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project's in-service date.
"Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved," she said.
Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline's construction.
"Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation," said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.
"We've always said that it's never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.
"Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer's total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted."