Usually, removing plants from a national park is against the law. Federal law. Kind of like the rules against keeping arrowheads found on public land. The feds consider it bad form.
Rules weren’t made to be broken, no matter what. But good decision makers understand the exceptions. That’s why the federal government authorized an agreement with citizens of the Cherokee Nation to pick plants at the Buffalo River last week.
Wild onion. River rod. Canadian Wild Ginger.
Federal law allows Indian tribes to enter into agreements with national park officials in this manner. The latest agreement came about because climate change threatens the availability of traditional herbal medicines to the Cherokee people in Oklahoma. Here in Arkansas, there are still 76 kinds of plants that Native Americans can pick. And now are allowed.
Bill Bowden, who is on the Hey Martha! fight for this paper, covered the story. The article states that Native Americans who use these plants for traditional purposes can find them in Buffalo River State Park. The story quoted Chuck Hoskin Jr., Senior Chief of the Cherokee Nation:
“There are so many pressures on Cherokee culture over the centuries since contact with Europe. This certainly includes the pressure on our language and our culture that has eroded much of our ways of life. modern pressures such as climate change threaten medicinal plants on our reservation as they do for Indigenous peoples around the world, so it is important that the Cherokee Nation takes action to protect, in particular, medicinal plants, because knowledge of these plants is something rare these days.
White Mockernut Hickory. Flowering dogwood. Sheep showers.
Only members of the Cherokee Medicine Keepers are allowed to pick the plants at this time. Maybe more nation members will be allowed later. And since this is a government operation, there will be permits issued, ID checks, and the entire DMV.
Wild strawberry. Jewelweed. Daisy with bull’s eyes.
There are lots of details. Plants thrive, flower and produce fruit at different times, so it all needs to be sorted. But we can think of no harm in allowing Native Americans to continue their long tradition. This is perhaps best expressed by park superintendent Mark Foust during the agreement ceremony:
“It’s very fitting, I think, that this is Buffalo National River’s 50th anniversary year,” he said. “But we know in the National Park Service that many have come before us as stewards of this land. So our ability to partner with the Cherokee Nation and steward the land that you care about, and that the Medicine Keepers know so well, is truly our honor.. So we thank you and look forward to many years of working together and hard work to protect the ecosystem for the next generation and generations after.”
Sumac smooth. Black locust. Sassafras. Spiderwort.
There are exceptions to the rules. Even the rule of law. There must be.