The first people to cultivate land in North America did so long before the United States was established, and local groups are now aiming to revitalize their methods.

In an effort to rejuvenate indigenous, traditional permaculture practices, the Northeastern State University Center for Tribal Studies has partnered with area organizations to produce the Restoring and Reclaiming Indigenous Agriculture Project.

An information session was held Thursday evening, Jan. 30, at the Chota Conference Center in the Tahlequah Cherokee Casino for growers to learn more about the project and the 10-day course for aspiring American Indian farmers.

Project Director Tiffanie Hardbarger said participants who complete all the course's curriculum could receive certifications in permaculture design.

"It is a pretty intensive certification, and at the end, if you do all of the parts, you do get a permaculture certificate, so there are some curriculum things we have to meet," said Hardbarger. "Which is why it's good for everyone to know what they're getting themselves into."

The Center for Tribal Studies received nearly $70,000 through the Native American Agriculture Fund for the project. The course includes an eight-day training at Camp Sevenstar on Lake Tenkiller, where attendees will learn about traditional indigenous food and agricultural practices.

"Food sovereignty and our traditional foods are extremely important pillars for holistic well-being, for our communities, our cultural life ways, spiritual connections, and our tribal sovereignty itself," said Hardbarger. "The intent is to combine main-stream permaculture design curriculum with indigenous knowledge and practice. So chosen participants will learn about nutrition food considerations for holistic health and well-being."

Kelda Lorax will be leading the course, and she said permaculture is a set of design principles focusing on traditional systems around the globe that have been working for thousands of years. It's a worldview of how living in harmony with natural ecosystems can help sustain communities and meets the needs of humans.

"It's like taking what works on the planet and figuring out, how can I still have hot showers, how can I still communicate with my friend, and how can I still have these things that we're accustomed to in this western culture and have them more sustainably?" said Lorax. "That is not an impossible goal. Often we don't lack solutions, we just lack the political will, or there's some industrial, military reason for why we have to perpetuate harming the planet, but the solutions are actually very simple."

Participants, who must be at least 16 years old, will become more aware of job and economic opportunities in permaculture design. American Indian participants who successfully complete the course will receive a $500 stipend.

On the first day of the course, the introductory session, approved applicants will learn why permaculture as a concept came to exist and how it helps people obtain better land-management practices. Throughout the course, Lorax and other knowledgeable experts on permaculture will discuss patterns in nature; the benefits of mimicking wild gardens; understanding what soils need to be healthy; how nature cycles and cleans water; how humans use of tools can benefit landscapes; and much more.

The participants, along with their assigned teams, are expected to develop a design based on what they've learned for a specific piece of land. Harbarger said it's the final requirement to receive certification for permaculture.

CTS partnered with American Indian Resource Center, Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Association, Pawnee Nation College, Tahlequah Farmers' Market, and the Tahlequah Community Garden for the project.

During the eight-day training at Camp Sevenstar, participants will be provided lodging, food and childcare at no cost. Guests are not required to stay at the camp. Anyone may apply for the project, but preference goes to citizens of tribal nations.

Check it out

The NSU Center for Tribal Studies will host another information session Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m., at the Cherokee Casino in the Chota Conference Center. For more information about the project, contact CTS at 918-444-4350 or tribalstudies@nsuok.edu, or at ord@nsuok.edu. To RSVP for the session, visit tinyurl.com/indigenousfood.

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