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Learn About Cherokee-Significant Plants, Preservation and Their Traditional Uses

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Learn how Cherokees used traditional plants as medicine, food, shelter, weapons and more prior to the Trail of Tears, and how some tribal members are working to preserve traditional ecological knowledge and grow gardens with these Cherokee-significant plants. Then walk through the Rocky Ford area, north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to view these ancient plants growing in their natural habitat and hear how to start your own Cherokee garden.

The Cherokee Nation's second annual Ethnobotany Conference will take place May 24-25. The first day, speakers will share traditional knowledge about the plants on the Cherokee Reservation at the tribe's W.W. Keeler Complex in Cherokee, Oklahoma. The conference will conclude with the guided nature walk near Rocky Ford.

“The purpose of our ethnobotany conference is to increase awareness and appreciation of Cherokee plants, which traditionally provided Cherokees with not only food but medicines, as well,” said Cathy Monholland, history and cultural curriculum specialist for the Cherokee Nation, in a press release. “Many people have the interest but not the expertise regarding these plants, so our aim is to teach people more about the plants that are still so important in Cherokee life, and our nature walk is intended to let people see some of these plants in their natural habitat.”

The first day, guest speaker Clint Carroll, a member of the Cherokee Nation, will point out the many contemporary challenges facing people who are trying to preserve American Indian environmental knowledge and practices in his talk, “What We Know About Things that Live in the Wild: Cherokee Environmental Knowledge Through Time.” Carroll is a postdoctoral associate in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and has worked as an environmental and natural resources technician for the Cherokee Nation.

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After Carroll's speech, master gardeners Tony and Carra Harris will present “If Plants Could Talk: A Cherokee Relationship,” starting at 1:30 p.m. The pair grow one of the largest collections of Cherokee-significant plants in the nation. Tony will share how the plants were used for medicine, food, shelter, weapons, tools and ceremonial purposes before the Trail of Tears. Carra will present ideas and resources on how to start your own Cherokee garden.

The final day, participants will take a two-hour guided nature walk, in which conference presenters and representatives of the tribe’s Natural Resources department will point out some of the plants discussed during the conference.

“We take participants places where you can see plants growing that you normally wouldn’t find in a suburban setting,” said Cherokee Nation Natural Resources director and nature walk guide Pat Gwin. “It’s a natural Ozark stream setting so it really closely resembles the environment the Cherokees would have had back east.”

The conference is free and open to the public. Transportation for the nature walk will be on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information about the Cherokee Nation Ethnobotany Conference, contact Monholland at 918-453-5389.