Where Three Sisters Thrive

The Cherokee Nation each year gives tribal citizens inventory from its seed bank, such as Cherokee White Eagle Corn seeds. Photo courtesy Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

The Cherokee Nation each year gives tribal citizens inventory from its seed bank, such as Cherokee White Eagle Corn seeds.
Photo courtesy Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Trail of Tears beads, ceremonial native tobacco and rare breeds of corn, beans, squash – referred to in Native cultures as “three sisters” – and gourds have been cultivated by Cherokee people for centuries. Thanks to Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and its citizens, these heirloom plants and vegetables will flourish for many years to come.

The Tahlequah-based tribe’s seed bank program, which began about six years ago, is giving away 13 rare seed varieties – tracing back to the Cherokee’s ancestral homelands in the southeastern U.S. – to tribe members.

“These are varieties of heirloom seeds the Cherokee have planted and sustained long before [European] contact and long before we had a written history,” says Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “For Cherokee people, the process of harvesting seeds and passing them down has gone on for generations. It is an essential part of our heritage.”

The seeds, genetically superior and drought-tolerant, are vital to preserving American agricultural history, he adds.

Cherokee Nation has received more than 100 requests since the dispersal was announced a month ago and will continue processing requests through April. Tribe members can receive up to two varieties of seeds when they present a tribal citizenship card, proof of age and address.