PORCUPINE, N.D. - "The wind was blowing at about 40 miles an hour today,
and we took refuge in the sanctuary," said Monica Skye of a recent day on
the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The haven to which she
referred is a botanical preserve that shelters prairie plants and animals
as well as passing humans.
The richly diverse 85-acre tract encompasses a watershed, including a
spring and tributaries of the Cannonball River; and is home to chokecherry
and juneberry bushes, burr oaks and many significant medicinal plants,
including purple coneflower, yarrow, artemisia and milkweed.
Skye, who has Chippewa ancestry, lives at Standing Rock with her husband,
Aubrey Skye, Lakota, and their two children. He is gardens coordinator for
the Standing Rock diabetes program, and she's a long-time naturalist who's
sometimes referred to as "the herb lady."
"The sanctuary is unusual," said Skye. "Trees are not common on the
prairie, and it includes rare old-growth hawthorn, which is magical when
it's in bloom. It smells like apple blossoms. The thorns can be used as
sewing needles or awls, and the berries are medicine for the heart."
The haven is also special because it's the first in the country on tribal
land, according to Nancy Scarzello, herbalist, teacher and coordinator of
51 botanical preserves for United Plant Savers, a Vermont nonprofit devoted
to protecting the native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada.
The group has awarded Skye a grant to purchase seeds of the endangered
plants she is restoring to the area, as well as for discreet signage to
place along low-impact interpretative trails that she has designed to
follow animal paths.
"Monica doesn't hesitate," said Dennis Paint, Lakota, who is a candidate
for a degree in Environmental Science from Oglala Lakota College and a
member of the Porcupine District Planning Commission. "She got the United
Plant Savers grant and lo and behold, she'd gotten to work."
Paint described the sanctuary as being "at the heart of the matter" - an
essential element of restoring health to humans and the landscape.
Skye and Paint credited district officials for shepherding the project
through, including Darrel Iron Shield, Chastity Looking Horse, Kimberly
Lawrence, Ione Gayton, Randall White Sr. and Mary Louise Defender-Wilson.
Paint also noted that cattle manager Michael Murphy constructed fences so
the herd couldn't damage the tract.
Visitors frequently turn up for guided walks. Sanctuary guests have
included elders, schoolchildren, Ethnobotanist Linda Jones' students from
Sitting Bull College, a tribal archaeologist, a zoologist/ ornithologist
"Monica gets people of all generations involved, and we at United Plant
Savers are excited about that," said Scarzello. "What we do isn't just
about protecting plants. It's also about educating the entire community."
Terril Shorb calls Monica and Aubrey Skye "stars." Shorb is their faculty
advisor at Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz., where their work at
Standing Rock is earning them degrees in the Sustainable Community
Development Program. "Monica and Aubrey are humble people," Shorb said,
"but I use their work as an example for other students. What they do is not
just about restoring native plants. It's about traditional ways of healing
the relationship to the land."
Skye takes her children on hikes through the preserve almost every day. "I
learn something every time I go there," she said. "Our best teacher is
To find out more about United Plant Savers and its programs, visit
www.unitedplantsavers.org or call Betzy Bancroft at (802) 476-6467. To
apply to the sanctuary program, contact Nancy Scarzello at (802) 496-7053.