Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Secretary of Natural
Resources Chad Harsha with heirloom seeds being sent to the
Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. (Photo courtesy of Cherokee
A tiny part of Cherokee Nation is heading deep inside a secluded,
freezing-cold mountain thousands of miles away from home.
This is the way. This is life. This is survival.
It's also history. As many tribes across Indian Country are preparing
for spring planting season, Cherokee Nation is taking a dramatic
step further, beyond planting and its annual seed distribution to
its citizens. The tribe is the first in North America to deposit
traditional heirloom seeds at Norway's Svaldbard Global Seed Vault.
Cherokee Nation is only the second Indigenous community to store
seeds at the vault after South America's Indigenous Andeen communities
Cherokee Nation made the seed announcement in early February and
the deposit is scheduled to happen today, Feb. 25.
"My hope is that we are not the last [North American] tribe, last
group of Indigenous people to be invited and that we are just the
first of many," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin
Nine Cherokee heirloom samples were sent to Norway: Cherokee White
Eagle Corn, Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears
Beans, Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans, Cherokee Candy
Roaster squash and three other types of corn. Each predates European
contact and is significant to the Cherokee people. Hoskin said the
seeds selected are the most popular among the tribe and "varieties
that we would want to provide in case of global catastrophe, so
our history is not lost."
A Crop Trust representative connected with Cherokee Nation last
year after the tribe's seed bank program was highlighted on National
Public Radio. The vault is owned by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture
and Food and is a partner with Crop Trust. It was built to outlast
the worst case scenario. It opened in 2008 and can store up to 2.5
million seeds. Cherokee Nation will be part of the largest seed
deposit since the vault's opening, pushing the seed samples from
across the world to past 1 million, according to www.croptrust.org.
Of the 36 institutions epositing seeds this round, eight are first
timers bringing the total number of depositors to 86.
Cherokee Nation Senior Director of Environmental Resources Pat
Gwin said depositing the seeds "is a tremendous opportunity and
honor for the tribe. Additionally, knowing the Cherokee Nation's
seeds will be forever protected and available to us, and us only,
is a quite valuable thing indeed."
Each year, Cherokee Nation disperses heirloom seeds to its citizens
in Oklahoma and those living across the nation. More than 10,000
seed packets are given out annually to Cherokee citizens. The tribe
has a seed bank and a heirloom seed garden that started in 2006.
Many tribes across Indian Country have seed banks and community
gardens. In northern New Mexico, the Tesuque Pueblo Seed Bank continues
to thrive. It was built in 2011 from recycled materials and is powered
by solar power. The seed bank stores traditional pueblo seeds and
seeds from other tribal nations. In addition, the small four-person
seed bank staff tend to a greenhouse, a garden and an orchard with
a variety of apples and berries.
Emigdio Ballon, Inca and Tesuque Pueblo agriculture director, said
growing food is important to Indigenous people and for survival.
He said preserving traditional foods is key and acknowledged the
effort by Cherokee Nation to store seeds in Norway. "When they bring
seeds over there, it's because they care, they care for their brothers
and sisters and the food for the seven generations," he said.
Svalbard is a small, remote island north of the Arctic Circle off
the Norwegian coast. It's about 620 miles from the north pole. More
polar bears live there than people, according to the vault's website.
Seeds reach the island by plane and are then taken to the vault
The vault was built in a mountainside well above sea level and
radiation and humidity levels tend to be naturally low, according
to the website. Deposits happen three to four times a year and only
once has a depositor taken their seeds out. It happened in 2015
after access to a seed bank was lost in Syria because of civil war,
but seeds have since been re-deposited.
"It is a long-term seed storage facility, built to stand the test
of time and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters," the
website reads. "The seed vault represents the world's largest collection
of crop diversity.
Inside the facility is a tunnel longer than a football field to
reach the area where the seeds are stored. Cold air is piped into
the vault to make it even colder than naturally. The vault temp
is set at 0 degrees fahrenheit. The mountain rock is dark but walls
have been coated with a mixture of plastic fiber and concrete that
lightens them up to look like snow. The vault is not meant to be
a tourist destination and isn't an eye catcher. A virtual reality
and a 360-degree interactive tour is available on the website that
shows a glimpse of what's inside.
Hoskin said he hopes a Cherokee citizen visits the vault one day,
not to re-collect the seeds under dark circumstances, but to develop
a relationship with vault leaders.
"I do hope in the future we have an occasion to visit the seed
vault to engage directly with people operating the vault," he said.
"It's a significant moment in history and I think is only the beginning
of a larger conversation of preserving heirloom seeds used by Indigenous