Native Seed Program Grows in Popularity, Preserves Cherokee Culture

Traditional corn seed

Traditional corn seed

Guest Commentary

Cherokee culture comes in many forms, from our language to our dances to our arts, and each is worth preserving. Over the past several years, one of the most popular efforts to preserve Cherokee culture has been the Cherokee Nation’s seed bank program.. For Cherokee citizens, it’s a way to continue the cultivation of crops that have been with our people for generations. They are the basic foods God gave us and we brought with us along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

Related: Cherokee Nation to Disperse Rare, Traditional Seeds

Each year, we grow, harvest, warehouse and distribute multiple varieties of corn, beans, gourds and ceremonial tobacco used for tribal customs to Cherokees across the United States. These varieties are known as heirloom seeds and are not available in stores. The genetics are unique to the Cherokee Nation and important culturally and scientifically. The heirloom seeds possess traits any grower desires, including being drought and pest resistant and having low fertilization needs. The seed bank stock is healthy, strong and unique to the Cherokee people.

Cherokees have been farming these same crops for hundreds of years. They are what our ancestors grew and cultivated before European contact. Our people have always been exceptional agriculturalists.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

In 2006, after conferring with Cherokee elders and cultural experts, the tribe set out to reestablish a seed sharing program. To me, it is a great American agriculture story because it connects us to our rich history and traditional ways.

Additionally, it’s something we can share with our kids and grandkids, and it promotes healthy food consumption and physical activity.

Last year, the tribe distributed seeds to more than 1,500 people, and we will deliver even more in 2015. We anticipate the highest demand we’ve ever had, and we look forward to sharing the inventory with tribal citizens beginning the first week of February. Currently, we have the largest inventory since the program began.

Creating a renewed interest in growing traditional Cherokee crops and plants is another way we can preserve our link to the land and our connection to our ancestors.

To get the seeds, citizens can either make an appointment to pick them up or email their request to to have them sent by mail. Citizens are limited to two varieties. Individuals must include a copy of his or her Cherokee Nation tribal citizenship card, proof of age and address.

I wish you a bountiful and happy harvest.


Bill John Baker is principal chief of Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.


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