TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation announced Wednesday the tribe is dedicating nearly 1,000 acres of land inside the reservation to protect culturally significant plants, and also signed a separate agreement with the National Park Service to allow Cherokee citizens to gather plants within the Buffalo National River Park in Arkansas for traditional use.

During the week of Earth Day, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner signed an executive order that will designate nearly a thousand acres of land in Adair County rich with culturally significant plants and natural resources for conservation and supporting the advancement of cultural preservation and education.

The executive order designates pristine deciduous forest located near the Bell Community of Adair County as the “Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers Preserve.”

The Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers Preserve property is among the most botanically diverse tribal lands within the Cherokee Nation Reservation. The order marks the land as protected conservation lands for traditional gathering and cultural activities as designated under the Cherokee Nation Park, Wildlands, Fishing and Hunting Preserve Act.

“Our Cherokee Medicine Keepers are a group of fluent, Cherokee-speaking elders whose mission is to protect and perpetuate traditional Cherokee knowledge within the Cherokee Nation Reservation, and having dedicated acreage to protect Cherokee environmental knowledge for current and future generations is something we as a tribe must commit to, as our tribe and Medicine Keepers recognize that Cherokee traditions are uniquely tied to the land and natural resources,” Chief Hoskin said. “This order signed today acknowledges that the current generation of Medicine Keepers hold important traditional knowledge and it needs to be revitalized, protected, and shared with younger Cherokees.”

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Warner also signed an agreement Wednesday with the National Park Service, acting through the Superintendent of Buffalo National River in Arkansas, allowing Cherokee Nation citizens to gather 76 different plants, such as river cane, bloodroot, sage and hickory for traditional purposes. The tribe will create a process for citizens to register on the tribe’s Gadugi Portal, and will submit names to NPS, with Cherokee Nation keeping a report of the gathering, under the agreement.

The agreement will be the first between the Cherokee Nation and National Park Service Buffalo National River. It is also the first of its kind in the region between a tribe and NPS.

“This area has a vibrant history of helping sustain our Cherokee people with food, the cane and bushes for our Cherokee crafts, and leaves and roots for traditional medicine,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “The Cherokee Nation has worked on this partnership agreement before COVID-19 to have these dedicated resources available again which allows the Nation Park Service to honor the U.S. trust responsibility to our tribes.”

The agreement says Cherokee Nation will establish a process for Cherokee Nation citizens to gather traditional plants in certain areas of the Buffalo National park including the Lost Valley, Tyler Bend, Buffalo Point and Rush areas.

“It is an honor for the National Park Service to enter into this agreement with the Cherokee Nation,” said Mark Foust, National Park Service Superintendent at Buffalo National River. “This is an important step in the continuing efforts to embrace our tribal partners in the management of public lands at Buffalo National River. The Cherokee Nation offers invaluable information, ecological knowledge, and a unique perspective that will lead to a better understanding of the benefits of public land.”

The Cherokee Nation also has designated preserve areas for hunting and land conservation through its Cherokee Nation Wildlife Management Office under its Secretary of Natural Resources.

“This conservation preserve supports the continued work of the Cherokee Medicine Keepers to protect traditional Cherokee culture and heritage,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha. “I applaud Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner’s continued commitment to protect and conserve Reservation lands for the benefit of future generations." 

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