New grant aims to preserve Cherokee ecological knowledge




Cherokee Nation Environmental Resources Senior Director Pat Gwin looks at a Georgia candy roaster squash at the tribe’s heirloom garden.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A nearly $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation aims to preserve the Cherokee culture through the establishment of a mentor program for young Cherokee Nation citizens.
The program will match young Cherokees from northeastern Oklahoma with elders in the tribe’s “Medicine Keepers” to learn about and sustain traditional Cherokee lifeways by working in the tribe’s heirloom garden, learning the language and participating in field botany exercises.
Cherokee citizen and University of Colorado Boulder Professor Clint Carroll was recently awarded the five-year grant. He is working with Pat Gwin, senior director of Cherokee Nation Environmental Resources, to administer a three-year program in the Cherokee Nation.
“Dr. Carroll’s National Science Foundation project promises to be a unique opportunity for Cherokee students to be taught traditional ecological knowledge in a manner and setting as would have been the case centuries ago,” Gwin said.
The Cherokee Environmental Leadership Program works directly with the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers to educate five Cherokee students about the Cherokee culture, the Cherokee language and local environmental issues. The Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers are a group of 12 fluent Cherokee speakers whose mission is to preserve the traditional language, culture and natural resources of the tribe.
“The project seeks to revitalize the Cherokee language and traditional knowledge and to inform tribal land conservation policy, which we hope will promote Cherokee cultural resilience and overall well-being,” Carroll said.
Carroll has worked closely with the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers since its inception in 2008.
Participants will be expected to dedicate 10 hours per week to the project, working in the Cherokee Nation heirloom garden, taking Cherokee language courses and meeting regularly with the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers.
Students who live in northeastern Oklahoma and are a citizen of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes are eligible to apply. Applications must be submitted by March 16. To apply, visit


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