Cherokee Nation first tribe in U.S. to send heirloom seeds to global vault

02/06/2020 11:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha hold packages of some of the Cherokee Nation’s heirloom seeds being sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. The CN is the first U.S. tribe to send heirloom seeds to the vault. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee White Eagle Corn is one of the heirloom seeds the Cherokee Nation is sending to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation is the first tribe in the United States to receive an invitation to deposit its traditional heirloom seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a long-term seed storage facility housed deep inside a mountain on a remote island in Norway. 

The CN Natural Resources office collected nine samples of Cherokee heirloom crops to send to Svalbard, including Cherokee White Eagle Corn, the tribe’s most sacred corn, which is typically used during cultural activities, and three other varieties of corn grown for consumption in distinct locations to keep the strains pure. Other seeds sent to the seed bank include Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Cherokee Turkey Gizzard black and brown beans, and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash. 

All nine varieties sent to the seed bank predate European settlement. 

“This is history in the making, and none of it could have been possible without the hard work of our staff and the partnership with the team in Norway,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “It is such an honor to have a piece of our culture preserved forever. Generations from now, these seeds will still hold our history and there will always be a part of the Cherokee Nation in the world.” 

In 2019, after being interviewed by National Public Radio about the CN’s heirloom seed bank program, Environmental Resources Senior Director Pat Gwin was contacted by Luigi Guarino, director of science for the Global Crop Diversity Trust. 

“He sent me an email and said they would be honored to have the tribe’s seeds in the seed vault,” Gwin said. “This 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.” 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault preserves seed and crop diversity in the case of an agricultural hardship or global catastrophe that would leave future generations without food supplies. The vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops and holds more than 980,000 samples from nearly every country in the world. 

“The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank has always hoped to be able to deposit our traditional food crops into Svalbard one day,” Feather Smith, CN cultural biologist, said.

Svalbard was expected to host its largest seed deposit event on Feb. 25 to deposit the 2020 collection of seeds, including the CN’s. Learn more about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at

The CN also began dispersing its limited supply of heirloom seeds to CN citizens on Feb. 3. CN citizens are limited to two varieties of seeds. 

Citizens can submit order requests by visiting Create an account and follow the instructions to see a complete list of available seeds and to place and track orders. Previous participants of the tribe’s seed bank program can also use this link to log in and update their shipping address before submitting orders. 

For information, email or call 918-453-5336.


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