Category Archives: Updates

June Group Meeting and Community Surveys

Due to record flooding in northeastern Oklahoma, our June 2019 meeting had to be relocated from our Adair county land tract to the tribal complex in Tahlequah. We used this opportunity to repeat the Fall 2018 lesson of making traditional cornbread from scratch, as well as to discuss the program so far and plan for future activities. Repeating this activity allowed the students to gain a better grasp of the process. Overall, this meeting was a good opportunity to take stock of the first year of the program and to envision next steps together. Elder Crosslin Smith also prepared a special lesson for the students around sacred Keetoowah symbolism and its meaning.

Over the past year, we have held numerous community meetings to introduce the research project and the research team (CELP students and Principal Investigator Carroll). This process is an instrumental part of a community-based research project. We successfully coordinated introductions with three Cherokee communities: Greasy, Marble City, and Kenwood. We began this process in Fall 2018, and continued to meet with community leaders and attend community events in Spring 2019, in conjunction with the planned group activities for the education program. In June 2019, we began the community surveys to enlist participants into the study and acquire referrals. We totaled 30 surveys (11 Kenwood, 16 Marble City, 3 Greasy). Our goal is 30 in each community, so we will be returning in the Fall to complete this phase of the research.

Anna Sixkiller prepares traditional cornbread with Sky Wildcat and Kakiley Workman.

Crosslin Smith holds kernels of heirloom corn, ᏎᎷ.

Crosslin Smith gives a lesson on ancient Keetoowah symbolism.

Bonnie Kirk attends to a pot of ᏚᏯ (beans).

Spring Group Meeting at Our New Home

For our spring group activity in April, we met at the site of our new “home” — a remote tract of land in Adair county that has been designated as a tribal conservation area for education and the protection of abundant culturally-significant plants and animals. Students and staff began work in early spring to create a trail and clear an area where we will construct a permanent pavilion for future meetings and activities. Our work to connect the elders and youth at this special place is further supported by a generous grant from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.

It was a rainy and cold day, so we set up at the perimeter of the site to discuss numerous medicinal plants with the elders. Elder and spiritual leader Crosslin Smith began the meeting with a prayer and blessing for the site and all our future activities there. We had a simple lunch around a fire and discussed the plants that some brought from home, and others that had been collected by staff at the site shortly after we arrived. We also had a chance to transplant a Dwarf Prairie Willow cutting from a roadside to our group home with the hope that this important plant will establish itself there.

We are blessed to be doing this work with the support of numerous organizations and individuals, and I’m excited to have inaugurated our new “home” that we hope will be a site of learning, relationship-building (with the land and with each other), and for the practice of our land-based knowledge today and into the distant future.

The creek flowing through our new home.

Spiritual Leader Crosslin Smith (4th from left) discusses the importance of the land and our mission to protect and learn about the plants.

Pat Gwin makes a cutting from a Dwarf Prairie Willow (ᏗᎵᎦᎵᏍᎩ ᎤᏍᏗ) for transplanting.

Junior member Cherokee Davis holds the cutting to transplant.

Medicine Keeper Bonnie Kirk discusses Wild Cherry (ᎩᏔᏯ).

Student Kakiley Workman holds a Chickweed plant (ᏥᏔᎦᏂᏓ).

Medicine Keepers Ryan Mackey and Phyllis Edwards discuss a Calamus plant (ᏬᏱ ᎦᏙᎦ).

Medicine Keeper Phyllis Edwards and junior member Cherokee Davis. Cherokee is holding a Spicebush plant (ᏃᏓᏟ).

Student Summer Wilkie and Medicine Keeper Bonnie Kirk discuss a Buckeye plant (ᎤᏍᏆᏓ).

Students Summer Wilkie and Larry Carney examine a Buckeye plant.

Cherokee Davis inspects a Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant (ᏢᏓᏥ ᎦᏙᎦ).

Student Savannah Anderson talks with Medicine Keepers Anna Sixkiller and Margaret Christie Leuthje.

Clint Carroll and Pat Gwin discuss plants collected at the site.

Clint Carroll and Cherokee Davis examine a Buckeye plant.

Fall Group Meeting on Mother Corn


On Friday, September 28, we gathered at the tribal complex in Tahlequah, OK to discuss the significance of corn—selu—to Cherokee people. The Medicine Keepers opened the meeting by telling stories about their childhood, when their parents and grandparents raised corn fields to feed their families. More than just a “staple food,” selu has sustained Cherokee people since time immemorial. The elders shared numerous traditional recipes, which we put into action with our heirloom corn from the Cherokee Nation Seedbank Program. Using a hand-cranked grain mill, the students ground Cherokee colored flour corn into meal. The Medicine Keepers showed students how to cook corn bread and numerous other traditional foods from scratch. Needless to say, we all had a great time learning, cooking, and eating!

Medicine Keepers John Ross and Phyllis Edwards discuss the importance of corn to Cherokees. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Pat Gwin describes the genetics of Cherokee heirloom corn. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

CELP students shelling Cherokee heirloom corn. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Medicine Keeper Nancy Scott shells corn with CELP junior member Cherokee Davis.

Phyllis Edwards and Bonnie Kirk with Cherokee heirloom corn.

Heirloom Cherokee colored flour corn. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Pat Gwin instructs students on how to operate the grain mill. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

CELP student Sky Wildcat. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Medicine Keeper Anna Sixkiller making corn bread. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Medicine Keeper Phyllis Edwards with fresh corn bread. Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

Photo by Stephanie Remer, Cherokee Nation Communications Department.

ᎢᏓᎵᏍᏓᏴᎲᎦ! Let’s eat!

Land Education Orientation and Kickoff Meetings

On July 26-27, we welcomed our student cohort (Savannah Anderson, Larry Carney, Sky Wildcat, Summer Wilkie, and Kakiley Workman) and kicked off the land education program. Students toured the Cherokee Nation Heirloom and Native Plants Garden, visited with elder and spiritual leader Crosslin Smith at his home, and generally got to know their Medicine Keeper mentors. We closed the kickoff meeting on Friday with an ethnobotany hike led by Senior Director of Environmental Resources, Pat Gwin, on a remote and beautiful tract of tribal land in Adair County. We were grateful for good weather and no encounters with any poisonous snakes! We all look forward to the next three years of learning and working together to further the goals of the Medicine Keepers.

The group gathered at Crosslin Smith’s home for a traditional blessing. L to R: Feather Smith-Trevino, Nancy Scott, Kakiley Workman, Summer Wilkie, Savannah Anderson, Clint Carroll, Sky Wildcat, Phyllis Edwards, Larry Carney, Anna Sixkiller. Seated: Crosslin Smith.

Feather Smith-Trevino gives a tour of the Cherokee Nation gardens. L to R: Feather Smith, Savannah Anderson, Sky Wildcat, Kakiley Workman, Summer Wilkie, Larry Carney, Gary Vann. Background: Kevin Daugherty, Pat Gwin.

Students and staff on the ethnobotany hike in Adair County. L to R: Summer Wilkie, Sky Wildcat, Kakiley Workman, Larry Carney, Savannah Anderson, Nancy Rackliff, Kevin Daugherty.

ᎧᎶᏪᏗ ᎤᏍᏗ / False indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), a Cherokee medicine plant. Photographed on the ethnobotany hike.

ᎢᎾᏓ ᎦᏅᎪᎢ / Walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), a Cherokee medicine plant. Photographed on the ethnobotany hike.


ᏬᏱ ᎦᏙᎦ / Sweet flag (Acorus calamus), a Cherokee medicine plant. Photographed on the ethnobotany hike.

ᏩᏁᎢ / Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), a culturally significant Cherokee tree. Photographed on the ethnobotany hike.

Students and staff on the ethnobotany hike.

Pat Gwin discusses culturally significant plants with the student cohort on the ethnobotany hike.

Applications and Interviews: Thank you

Itsvyalihelitseha (we are grateful to you all). Thanks to all those who applied to the land education program, and to the finalists who participated in the interview sessions on April 18-20. I was grateful to be able to meet such an inspiring group of Cherokees! We received 20 applications in total, and we interviewed 10 finalists, from which we will select 5 students to make up the program cohort. No doubt, this will be a difficult task. Nevertheless, we look forward to planning the kickoff meeting this summer.

L to R: Clint Carroll, Dawni Saloli, Nancy Scott, Gary Vann, Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill, Anna Sixkiller. Not pictured (but present for all or part of the interview sessions): Kevin Daugherty, Phyllis Edwards, Ed Fields, Pat Gwin, Bonnie Kirk, Ryan Mackey, Nancy Rackliffe, Feather Smith-Trevino

Call for Applications Released!

We’re excited to announce the Call for Applications for the Cherokee Environmental Leadership Program.

The Cherokee Environmental Leadership Program is a three-year land-based education program that seeks to train Cherokee young adults in traditional ecological knowledge, the Cherokee language, Western scientific knowledge, and social science research methods to address natural resource issues in northeastern Oklahoma. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and is directed through a partnership between the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers (an incorporated group of respected Cherokee elders), the Cherokee Nation Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources, and Dr. Clint Carroll—a University of Colorado professor and Cherokee Nation citizen. We are seeking dedicated individuals who are committed to learning and perpetuating Cherokee culture. Applicants must also have a vested interest in addressing local environmental issues in Oklahoma.

Five selected students will receive training in local environmental knowledge, drawing from traditional Cherokee and Western scientific sources. Students will also study the Cherokee language, learn about critical issues in tribal environmental policy, and receive research experience working on a social scientific research project in the Cherokee Nation.

Eligibility: Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band, or Eastern Band citizenship; residence in northeastern Oklahoma or the immediately surrounding area.

Qualifications: A strong commitment to learning and perpetuating Cherokee lifeways, language, and knowledge, as demonstrated through the written application and an in-person interview (if selected).

Time Commitment: Over the course of the three-year program (June 2018-May 2022), students will be expected to commit an average of 10 hours per week to the project.

Applications are due Friday, March 16, 2018.

To apply, visit

See also the Press Release in the Cherokee Phoenix.

Project Kickoff and Land Education Curriculum Workshop

Members and staff of the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers gathered at the Old Saline District Courthouse to kickoff the grant project and discuss the curriculum for the land education program. L to R: (top row) Pat Gwin, Gary Vann, Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Toombs, (bottom row) Ryan Mackey, Phyllis Edwards, Bonnie Kirk, Anna Sixkiller, Nancy Rackliffe, Feather Smith-Trevino, Clint Carroll.

Our first activity for the grant project was a huge success! On November 2-3, the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers gathered to discuss the curriculum for the upcoming three-year land education program. Topics ranged from the Cherokee philosophy on teaching to proposed activities for our future student cohort. I look forward to putting these thoughts into a curriculum plan draft and issuing a call for applications soon. Stay tuned!

Discussing the land education curriculum with members of the Medicine Keepers at the Saline Courthouse.

Day two discussions took place at the Cherokee Heritage Center grounds in Park Hill.

Elder and Spiritual Advisor Crosslin Smith joined us for day two.