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(Many Paths)
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Cherokee Nation Again Offering Heirloom Seeds
by Will Chavez - Senior Reporter - Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Natural Resources Department is again offering Cherokee gardeners a chance to grow a bit of the tribe’s history and culture in their respective gardens using heirloom seeds from its seed bank.

This year 13 seed varieties are being offered. The seeds are free, but participating gardeners are asked to help restock the seed bank by sending seeds from their crops to the tribe.

“To me, that’s a really cool thing. It’s Cherokees helping Cherokees,” administration liaison Pat Gwin said. “As far as we know we are the only Indian tribe that grows our own heirloom seeds and distributes them to our own citizens, so that’s pretty cool too.”

He said requests for seeds were down in 2012 because draught and the extreme heat during the summer of 2011 caused a difficult growing season. In 2012, about 2,500 seed packets were distributed.

During the four years the seeds have been given away, the highest number of seed packets given during a year was 6,000, Gwin said. Some packets have been sent as far away as Nigeria, Africa.

“But I really think by far the vast majority of them go to California and the Tennessee area,” he said.

Gwin said the popularity of particular seeds varies annually, but White Eagle Corn and Native Tobacco seeds are always really popular.

Because of the difficult past summer, crop yields were nominal. Subsequently some seed varieties are not available this year because growers were not been able to send back as many seeds. However, the seed bank maintains a genetic stock of seeds that do not get intermingled with seeds that are sent back to Natural Resources.

“We’ve been able to supply some of the giveaway seeds because other parts of the country haven’t been as hot as here and people have sent us seeds we are able to send back out,” Gwin said. “They work really hard at this. A lot of people think they’re not doing enough to fulfill their end of the bargain if they don’t grow enough to send some back, so they’re always sending some back.”

The heirloom seeds are for plants that have been researched and are historically related to the tribe. Seeds available this year include Georgia Candy Roaster Squash, Job’s Tears (beads) and Jewel and Dipper Gourds. Other species available include Cherokee Flour Corn, which is large flour corn that includes white, yellow and colored (multi-colored) varieties; Cherokee White Eagle Corn; the Trail of Tears bean (small, jet black bean); Cherokee Long Greasy bean; Turkey Gizzard bean; and Native Tobacco, which is a ceremonial tobacco. It’s not a smoking tobacco and is restricted to citizens at least 18 years old.

Most of the seeds are rare cultivars not widely available through commercial means.For more information about the seed bank, call Mark Dunham at 918-453-5336 or visit the Natural Resources webpage at Seed requests can be emailed to or

Requests should include a name, scanned copy of CN citizenship card (blue card), a mailing address where the seeds should be sent, and if requesting tobacco seeds, proof of being at least 18.

The CN has a limited supply of these seeds, and every request may not be granted. Recipients are limited to two seed varieties. Only one variety of corn and gourds may be requested due to hybridization issues, so recipients should include one or two alternate seed varieties. Also, alternate seed varieties should be chosen because there is a limited supply of certain species.

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