Collaboration plants seeds for cultural and biological conservation



An on-campus collaboration with Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘(Cayuga Nation) aims to conserve biodiversity and simultaneously safeguard the cultural values ​​and human traditions – including language – that depend on these natural resources.

Cornell Botanical Gardens and the Faculty of Native American and Native Studies Program (AIISP), College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have partnered with Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘to help ensure language and cultural traditions of the nation be passed on to the next generation. .

Plant names in Cayuga language and English.

Collaboration with the Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘, whose traditional lands include Cornell’s Ithaca campus, combines the conservation and propagation of heritage plants with a course that teaches Cayuga language and culture (AIIS-LING 3324), co-taught by Jessica Martin (Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘/ Cayuga, Otahyǫ́: ni: / Wolf Clan), Kurt Jordan, (Anthropology / AIISP, College of Arts and Sciences) and John Whitman (Linguistics, A&S).

Because much of the Gayogo̱hó: nǫ language reflects the close relationship between their nation, nature, and growing plants, many classroom lessons focus on the planting cycle. Students in the class visit the Cornell Botanical Gardens to learn about plants that are deeply rooted in the Gayogo̱hó: nǫ way of life and used in their cooking, medicine, materials, art, ceremony and more.

Corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and tobacco are planted in the Pounder Vegetable Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens, with corn, beans and squash growing in the traditional ‘Three Sisters’ intercropping system – planted together on low mounds to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil and support each other. These heirloom seeds are all from generations of skilled indigenous farmers who have saved the seeds of the best plants year after year for generations.

The Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘provided seeds of three varieties of beans and one of tobacco. The Ska: rù: rÄ™ ‘(Tuscarora Nation), one of the six nations along with the Gayogo̱hó: nÇ«’ of the Hodinǫ̱hsǫ́: nih (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy, provided a variety of squash. Both corn and sunflower were grown from heirloom seeds of the Hopi Nation in Arizona.

Staff and faculty from AIISP, the Linguistics Department at the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell Botanical Gardens, and Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« knowledge keeper Stephen Henhawk collaborated to develop interpretive panels that reveal the deep relationship between Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« ‘and the plants that supported them as well as the Hodinǫ̱hsǫ́: nih Confederation for thousands of years. The signs include many words from the Gayogo̱hó language: nÇ« ‘, which reinforce the vocabulary of students in the Cayuga language course and educate visitors to the Cornell Botanical Gardens.

“The Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« language is polysynthetic, bringing together individual sentences into a single unit, thus creating a new meaning,” said Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), Cayuga Language and Culture Class co-founder and associate professor, history of the ‘art (A&S). “The collaboration between AIISP, Cornell Botanical Gardens, the Linguistics Department and the speakers of Gayogo̱hó: nÇ« exemplifies this idea by providing an immersive language learning experience with culturally important plants in the Pounder Vegetable Garden.

The safeguarding and cultivation of heirloom plants, as well as the revitalization of the language, are two key strategies to support and preserve the agricultural practices and traditions of Gayogo̱hó: nǫ.

“This is one example of the countless languages ​​on the brink of extinction around the world,” said Christopher Dunn, director of Cornell Botanic Gardens and chairman of the US National Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “With this loss of language comes the loss of knowledge of the natural world which is essential to the conservation and sustainable use of global biodiversity. Cornell Botanic Gardens is actively developing alliances at local, national and global levels to support the conservation of biocultural diversity and give voice to indigenous peoples.

Three Sisters plantations and associated crops are on display in the Pounder Vegetable Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens until mid-October. Cornell Botanic Gardens are open daily from dawn to dusk and are free.

Sarah Fiorello is Interpretation Coordinator for Cornell Botanic Gardens.



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