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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Cherokee relationships to land: Reflections on a historic plant gathering agreement between Buffalo National River and the Cherokee Nation

  • Author(s): Carroll, Clint
  • et al.

This piece reflects on my involvement in a historic agreement between Buffalo National River and the Cherokee Nation regarding the implementation of the “Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes” rule, 36 CFR Part 2 (Code of Federal Regulations, title 32, sec. 2.6., 2016). This rule allows federally recognized tribes to gather plants within national parks with which they are traditionally associated. Representatives from the Cherokee Nation’s formally constituted body of elder knowledge keepers—the Cherokee Medicine Keepers—lent their expertise on land-based knowledge and stewardship practices that provid- ed the basis for such a landmark agreement. Plant gathering within Buffalo National River offers Cherokee people a way to continue traditional cultural practices that are impacted by climate change in eastern Oklahoma. In many cases, plants are more plentiful and healthier within the park boundaries than on our limited tribal trust lands that are threatened by climate change and contemporary agricultural and development practices. The agreement also acknowledges our ancestral and political relationships to the lands within the park and allows Cherokee people to reestablish our connection to the park lands as a collective source of traditional sustenance, cultural knowledge, and health. In this piece, I offer some context for the project, specifically in terms of Cherokee relationships to land, given my previous scholarship and my longtime work with the Medicine Keepers.

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