Cherokee Nation invited to store seeds in Arctic vault

07/02/2019 09:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Cherokee Nation expects to store culturally significant seeds at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on a remote island between mainland Norway and the North Pole. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Rare seeds representing centuries of Cherokee cultural and agricultural history are headed for an Arctic vault built to protect the world’s crops.

Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill said representatives of Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway reached out after hearing about the tribe’s private seed bank in Tahlequah.

“They’ve asked us if we would want to store seeds in their vault, which is really a great thing,” Hill said during a recent Tribal Council Resource Committee meeting. “That’s a safety net for us in case of our own, personal disasters that we have here. I think all Cherokees should sleep a little better at night knowing that the species that are most important to us are protected in a new way.”

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on a remote island between mainland Norway and the North Pole, opened in 2008 via a partnership between Norway’s government, Nordic Genetic Research Center and independent organization Crop Trust.

It has the capacity to store 2.5 billion seeds representing 4.5 million varieties of crops, and currently holds more than 968,000 samples from nearly every country in the world.

“In fact, the vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world,” the Crop Trust notes.

The vault is described as “a long-term seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters.”

“I’m really proud that they invited us to put our seeds there,” Hill said. “That protects us if in the future we have some kind of cataclysmic, terrible fire at the complex and the seed bank was destroyed. Or if there was a really terrible drought for some reason and our genetics were threatened, we could go back to the Svalbard seed vault in Norway and pull our seeds back out. Those seeds belong to the Cherokee Nation. No one else can take them out except for us. So, it’s more like a safe deposit box.”

Hill said the vault is opened each February for new deposits.

“We’re hoping for a good year this year so we can put all of our newest and best genetics into the vault,” she added.

More than 70,000 crop varieties were deposited on the vault’s 10th anniversary in February 2018, which expanded the total unique varieties to more than 1 million. The Crop Trust is working with the tribe’s Environmental Resources Senior Director Pat Gwin, according to the trust’s communications manager, Luis Salazar, who, along with others, was “truly excited to hear about this possibility.”

Each February, the tribe’s Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site generally offers around 20 to 30 varieties of seeds to Cherokee Nation citizens.

“This provides a great opportunity for Cherokees to continue the traditions of our ancestors and elders, as well as educate our youth in Cherokee culture,” a CN news release states. “Items in our seed bank are rare cultivars and generally not commercially available. These plants represent centuries of Cherokee cultural/agricultural history.”

The heirloom garden was started in 2006. This year’s offerings included Cherokee White Eagle corn, Trail of Tears beans, Georgia Candy Roaster squash, various gourds and native plants.

Most of the plants and crops are found around the CN and North Carolina. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has shared many native plants with the CN.
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