Tribe helps river cane thrive by using fire

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
01/15/2015 08:15 AM
LINE SWITCH, Okla. – A river cane field located on Cherokee Nation land in southern Adair County got some needed help using fire.

On land adjacent to Sallisaw Creek, Roger Cain, researcher for the Cherokee Nation River Cane Initiative, joined Cherokee Nation Wildlife Fire Coordinator David Comingdeer and his son Spencer for a “controlled burn” under the native river cane growing next to the creek.

The river cane project began in 2011 to preserve, map and perpetuate the growth of river cane in the CN.

“So far we’ve identified 60 acres of river cane on tribal land out of about 18,000 acres. We’re here today on this plot that has been partially poisoned, and we’re trying to correct the problem by burning off the old cane, and hopefully we’ll connect two separate cane breaks together,” Cain said. “Burning cane breaks hasn’t been done since before statehood. Before statehood we were able to burn and do all sorts of stuff as a tribe...so this is pretty unique. We’re doing something other tribes wish they could do, and we’re glad we can do it and protect our tribal resources.”

Cain said the burn is done in the winter to remove the river cane’s competition. River cane grows in the winter, and if its competition is eliminated it will get a head start in the spring and grow taller and larger.
When the cane reaches a certain height it will develop a canopy and won’t have to compete as much with other plants around it because it will block out the sun, he said.

Comingdeer said he and his son attempted a “controlled burn” on Jan. 9, while the conditions were good with good humidity and little wind. However, the “fuel” or leaves needed to keep the fire going were compacted due to recent rainfall.

“A lot of our native species and our plants that are in this area that we use for our artwork, our basketry, our materials that we harvest for certain things like our medicine...are fire dependent. If you don’t have fire occasionally in those areas, than those native species simply die off. Other invasive species will come in and choke them out,” Comingdeer said. “The fire didn’t carry well through most of the cane itself, but if it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t need fire right now, so we’ll come back when the conditions for fire are a little bit better.”

Comingdeer said the plants growing in the area near Sallisaw Creek are similar to plants that grew in the Cherokee’s eastern homelands, so that’s why many Cherokee gravitated to the area after the forced removal.

Another problem for the river cane on this piece of tribal land is cattle are continuously eating the cane and preventing it from growing taller. Cain said the cattle are after the protein in the cane, which is a grass and is 30 to 40 percent protein. On the other side of the fence where the cattle are not able to graze, the river cane is much taller.

Cain said tribal leaders have pledged to fence in the river cane to prevent the cattle from eating it.

A third problem for the river cane is poisoning. Some of the cane near the creek was killed by poison possibly used by the rancher leasing the land to kill milk thistle and other weeds in the pasture next to the cane field. Milk thistle can cause nitrate poisoning in cattle and push out beneficial plants.

“The resulting run off from the poison washed down the field and bisected a canebrake as it washed into the creek,” Cain said.

River cane can be used to make blowguns, and milk thistle bulbs are used to help make blowgun darts.

Also, when ranchers mow over larger cane stalks they create spikes that are dangerous to animals and people, Cain added. People cutting cane and leaving spikes is one of Cain’s major complaints and safety concerns in canebrakes.

River cane was the Cherokees’ plastic, Cain said. It was used for shelter, weapons, mats, chairs, food and supplied material for baskets.

Unfortunately not much of the river cane found on the 60 acres of tribal land is fit for “traditional art” such as baskets, Cain said, because it has not been taken care of and is attempting to grow under the canopy of trees. River cane once grew 40 feet tall in the area, but now cane growing only 20 feet tall can be found.

“What we are finding is that river cane is best when a man is working with it and helping maintain it,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here is help its visibility to the sun increase as well as trying something we’ve never done as a tribe in using our traditional fire knowledge to improve the environment.”
ᏣᎳᎩ

ᏢᏓᏥ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ – ᎢᎯᏯ ᏠᎨᏏ ᎤᏰᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎦᏓ ᎤᎲᎢ ᎤᎦᎾᏮ ᎢᏗᏢ ᏓᏫᏍᎦᎵ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏂᏍᏕᎸᎲᎢ ᎠᏥᎳ ᎠᏅᏗᏍᎬᎢ.

ᎾᎿ ᎦᏙ ᎠᎲ ᏚᏓᎲᏢ ᏌᎷᏂᎨᏴ ᎤᏪᏴ, Roger Cain, ᎤᎦᏛᏂᏙ ᎤᏂᎧᎲ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏗ, ᎤᏖᎳᏛ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎢᎾᎨ ᏕᎦᎵᎬ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᏗᏘᏂᏙ David Comingdeer ᎠᎴ ᎤᏪᏥ ᎠᏫᏄᏣ Spencer ᏧᏙᎩᏓ ᎾᎿ “ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᎴᏂᏍᎬ” ᎭᏫᎾᏗᏢ ᏅᏍᎩ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏛᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᎹᏳᏟᏗ.

ᎾᎿ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᎾᎦᏎᏍᏛ ᎤᎾᎴᏅᎲ ᏔᎵ ᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᏌᏚ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ ᎤᎾᎵᏏᏅᏙᏗ, ᎤᎾᏟᎶᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᎾᎦᏎᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏛᏏᏗᏒ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ.

“ᏃᏊᏃ ᎨᏒ ᎣᎦᏟᎶ ᏑᏓᎵᏍᎪ ᎢᏳᏟᎶᏓ ᎢᎦ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏰᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎦᏓ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎾᎿ ᏯᏛᎾ ᏁᎳᏚ ᎢᏍᎪᎯᏧᏈ ᎢᏳᏟᎶᏓ. ᎠᎭᏂ ᎣᏤᏙ ᎪᎯ ᎢᎦ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎢᎦᏓ ᎤᏂᏢᎯ ᎢᎯᏯ, ᎠᎴ ᎣᏣᏁᎶᏗ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎢᏲᎬᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎣᏥᎪᎲᏍᏗ ᎤᏪᏘ ᎢᎯᏯ, ᎠᎴ ᎤᏚᎦ ᎯᎠ ᏔᎵ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏌᏊ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Cain. “ᏦᏣᎪᎲᏍᏗ ᎢᎯᏯ Ꮭ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᏯᏛᏁᎸ ᏱᎩ ᎾᏍᎩᏂ Ꮟ ᏗᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᏥᎨᏎᎢ. ᎾᎯᏳ ᏥᎨᏎ ᎡᎵᏊ ᎬᎪᎲᏍᏙᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿᎢ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢᎢ ᎨᏒᎢ…. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᏓᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᎬᏩᎾᏚᎵᏗ ᏝᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏱᏂᎬᎾᏛᎦ, ᎠᎴ ᎣᏣᎵᎮᎵᎦ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦᏲᎦᏛᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎣᏣᎵᏏᏅᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏧᎬᏩᎶᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ.”

Cain ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎪᎳ ᎠᎾᎪᎲᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᏂᏛᏗᏍᎬ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏪᏘ ᎡᎳᏗ. ᎢᎯᏯ ᎠᏛᏍᎬ ᎪᎳ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎡᎳᏗ ᎤᏪᏘ ᎨᏒ ᏯᎪᎲᏍᏔᏂ ᎾᎿ ᎠᎯᏓ ᎠᏛᏍᎪ ᎪᎨᏯ ᎢᎾ ᎢᎦᏘ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏓᏃᎢ.

ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏛᎯᏍᏗ ᏳᏭᎷᏣ ᎧᎵ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ Ꮭ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦ ᏗᏐᎢ ᎤᏱᎬ ᎾᎥ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦᏘ ᏱᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏗᏞᎩ ᎨᏒ Ꮭ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦ ᏱᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.

Comingdeer ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᏩᏌ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏪᏣ ᎠᏫᏒᏣ ᏛᎠᎾᏁᎶᏔᏂ “ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏗ ᎠᏁᎴᏂᏍᎬ” ᎾᎿ ᎤᏃᎸᏔᏂ ᎧᎸ ᏐᏁᎵᏁ, ᎾᎿ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎢᎦ ᎨᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏂᎦᏃᎸᏍᎬᎾ. ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ, ᎾᎿ “ᎪᏔᏍᎩ” ᎠᎴ ᏧᎦᎶᎦ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎪᏙᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᏂᎦᏯ ᎠᏓᏪᎳᎩᏍᎪ ᎠᏎᏃ ᏗᎦᏓᏁᎯ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ ᎤᎦᎾᏅ ᎨᏒᎢ.

“ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎡᎯᏯ ᎠᏛᏒᏍᎪ ᎾᎿ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏰᎬ ᎾᎿ ᎬᏔᏂᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᏃᏢᏅᏍᎬ, ᏔᎷᏣ ᏱᎩ, ᎠᏎᎸ ᎨᏐ ᎢᏴ ᏂᎬᎾᏕᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏅᏬᏘ ᏱᎩ….. ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏴᎪᎲᏍᏗ ᎤᎪᏙ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᎾᎪᎲᏍᎬᎾ ᏴᏓᎭ ᎾᎿ, ᏯᎵᏛᏓ. ᏐᎢᏃ ᎨᏒ ᎤᎵᏗᏢ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎦᏄᎸ ᎠᏛᏍᎬ ᏳᎭᏬᏍᏓ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Comingdeer. “ ᏝᏃ Ꮩ ᏳᎪᏁ ᎢᎯᏲ ᎤᏩᏌ ᏂᎦᏓᏊ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎢᎯᏯ, ᎠᏎᏃ ᏄᎪᏅᎾ ᏱᎩ, ᏝᏃ ᎠᎪᎲᏍᏙᏗ ᏱᎨᏐ, ᏲᏍᏗᎷᎦᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏱᏓᏤᏟ ᎦᎴᏃᏗᎢ.”

Comingdeer ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎾᎨ ᎠᏛᏍᎬ ᏧᏰᎦ ᏌᎷᏂᎨᏴ ᎤᏪᏴ ᎤᏠᏯᏊ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏛᏒᏍᎪ ᎾᎿ ᎧᎸᎬ ᎢᏗᏢ ᏙᏗᎨᏅᏒ ᏗᎦᏂᎩᏒ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᎭᏂ ᏕᎩᎷᏤ ᎡᎩᏱᎶᏞᎢ.

ᏐᎢᏃ ᎤᏡᏗᏍᎩ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᎭᏂ ᏩᏥᏂ ᎤᏤᎵᎪ ᏩᎦ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎠᏂᎩᏍᎪ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏂᏲᏍᏗᏍᎬ Ꮮ ᎣᏍᏓ ᏯᏛᏍᎪᎢ. Cain ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏩᎦ ᎤᏂᎸᏉᏓ ᎠᏓᎵᏥᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᏪᎲ ᎢᎯᏯ, ᎤᏠᏯ ᎦᏄᎸ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎤᏪᎭ ᎤᎾᎵᏥᏍᏗᏍᎩ. ᏐᎢᏃ ᎨᏒ ᎠᏐᏴ ᎤᏗᏗᏢ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎢᎾ ᎢᎦᏘ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪᎢ.

Cain ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᏗᎾᏓᏘᏂᏙ ᎤᏂᏁᏨ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎠᏛᏍᎬ ᏧᎾᏐᏴᏍᏗᎢ ᏩᎦ ᎤᏂᎩᏍᏗ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ ᎢᎯᏯ.

ᏦᎢᏁ ᏃᏒᎾ ᎨᏒ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏂᎯᎰ. ᎢᎦᏓ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎠᎹᏳᏟᏗ ᎤᏰᎬ ᎦᎵᏬᎪ ᎠᏅᏔᏅᏍᎬ ᏩᎦ ᏗᎾᏛᎯᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᎠᏅᏔᏅᏍᎬ ᎠᏂᏢᏍᎬ ᎦᏄᎸ ᏄᏂᎸᏉᏛᎾ ᎾᎿ ᎠᎹᏯ ᎠᏂᎩᏍᎬ ᏫᎦᎷᎪ ᎢᎯᏯ ᏧᏰᎬᎢ. ᎤᏅᏗ ᎦᏁᎲᏍᎩ ᎦᏄᎸ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏂᎦ ᎤᏗᏑᏯ nitrate ᎡᏍᎦ ᎠᎴ ᏧᎾᏓᏂᎳ ᏱᎾᎾᎵᏍᏗ ᏩᎦ ᏃᎴᏍᏊ ᎤᏰᎾᎥ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎦᏄᎸ.

“ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏓᎯᎯ ᏫᎨᏯᏛᎬ ᏠᎨᏏ ᎠᎴ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎤᏠᏯᏍᏗ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏰᎬ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Cain.

ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏚᏇᏍᏗ ᏗᎪᏢᏙᏗ, ᎠᎴ ᏥᏥ ᎤᏥᎸᏅ ᏗᏲᏍᏙᏗ ᏗᎪᏢᏙᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏚᏇᏍᏗ ᏗᏍᏓᏲᏍᏙᏗ.

ᏃᎴᏍᏊ, ᏩᎦ ᏗᎾᏛᎯᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᏳᏂᎦᎵᏏ ᎦᏄᎸ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎤᏴᏗᏅᏓ ᎤᏲᏨ ᎪᏍᏓᏯ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎦᎾᏞᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏴᏫ ᎢᎦᎾᏰᎪᎢ ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Cain, ᏴᏫ ᎠᏂᎦᎵᏍᎬ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏗᎪᏍᏓᏯ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᎦᎾᏱᏍᎪ ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎩ Cain ᏧᏙᎩᏓ.

ᎢᎯᏯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏅᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᏯ ‘plastic’ ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Cain. ᎠᏅᏗᏍᎬᏃ ᏧᏂᏴᏍᏗ ᏓᏃᏢᏗᏍᎬ, ᎤᏂᏃᎭᎵᏓᏍᏙᏗ, ᏗᏰᏍᏛᏓ, ᏗᎦᏍᎩᎶ, ᎠᎵᏍᏓᏴᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏔᎷᏣ.

ᏝᏊᏃ ᎪᎯᏴ ᏥᎩ ᎤᏟ ᎢᎦ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎬᏴᏫᏛᏗ ᏱᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏑᏓᎵᏍᎪ ᎢᏳᏟᎶᏓ ᎠᎲ ᎦᏓ ᎾᏍᎩ “ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎦᎪᏢᏙᏗ” ᏯᏛᎾ ᏔᎷᏣ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Cain, ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ Ꮭ ᎩᎶ ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏔᏅ ᏱᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏕᏡᎬ ᎭᏫᎾᏗᏝ ᏓᏛᏍᎪ ᎤᏓᏩᏗᏍᎬ. ᎢᎯᏯ ᎪᎯᎩ ᏥᎨᏒ ᏅᎦᏍᎪ ᎢᎳᏏᏓ ᎢᏗᎦᏘ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ, ᏃᏊᏃ ᏥᎩ ᏔᎵᏍᎪ ᎢᎳᏏᏓ ᎤᏛᏏ ᏱᏛᏴᏩᏘ.

“ᎢᏳᏍᏗᏃ ᎣᏥᏩᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᎢᎯᏯ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏐ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏴᏫ ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏔᏅ ᏱᎩ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ. “ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏃᏣᏛᏁ ᎣᏥᏍᏕᎵ ᎬᏂᎨᏒ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏛᎯᏍᏗᎢ ᎣᏣᏁᎶᏗᎢ ᏝᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎩᎶ ᎢᏳᏛᏁᎸᎢ ᏱᎩ ᎠᏥᎳ ᎤᏔᏅ ᏱᎩ ᏓᏤᏢ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ ᎢᎯᏯ.”

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He e ...
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He e ...

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