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Tribes Lead Cultural Preservation Threatened by Invasive Species

Kelly Church, Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa; Richard Silliboy, Aroostook Band of Micmacs; and Butch Jacobs, Passamaquoddy, evaluate the quality, strength and condition of green ash splints pounded from experimental black ash logs.

Kelly Church, Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa; Richard Silliboy, Aroostook Band of Micmacs; and Butch Jacobs, Passamaquoddy, evaluate the quality, strength and condition of green ash splints pounded from experimental black ash logs.

The emerald ash borer beetle (EAB) is responsible for the death and decline of tens of millions of ash trees across 15 States.  It has had a devastating effect wherever ash trees grow.  Whether the ash is used by industry; shading homes and urban streets, or an integral part of our forest ecosystem, its decline due to EAB is being felt by everyone.  Perhaps one of the hardest hit by this pest are Native American tribes of the Northeastern United States for whom brown ash is rooted deep in their culture, providing spiritual and economic support to their communities.

Life-giving Mother Earth is central in the lives of the tribes and ash trees in particular are highly treasured. The wood from ash is used to create snowshoes, hunting and fishing decoys, canoe paddles and medicinal remedies. Also, brown ash (also called black ash) in particular is used to create intricate woven baskets, toys and musical instruments. This invasive pest that so directly threatens the life style and tradition of many Native American tribes has also created an opportunity for collaboration and intellectual exchange between tribal groups and the USDA.

“Ash trees are important to Native people of the northeast, animals of the forest, and even the ecologies of the forest,” said Kelly Church, fifth-generation basket weaver, Grand Traverse band of the Ottawa and Ojibwe. “Each Federal agency, State agency, Tribal government, tribal harvester, or just one person can make a difference; but working together we can make a bigger difference for all of us.”

Many tribes have engaged their own communities to prevent the spread of EAB, in conjunction with supporting USDA EAB program efforts. The Cherokee, Mohawk, Ojibwe, Penobscot and other tribes survey for the pest, using purple panel traps, on lands they steward.  Tribes also distribute EAB informational material to tourists and engage in one-on-one conversations to help educate campers about the risk of moving firewood.  In addition, a group of Native American basketweavers are lending their knowledge and expertise to support EAB research. Scientists with U.S Department of Agriculture’s Center for Plant Health Science and Technology (CPHST) are investigating treatments to kill EAB in black ash logs so the raw material can be transported out of quarantine areas without spreading EAB. Tribes from Maine, New York and Michigan have stepped up to help evaluate the integrity of ash splints freshly pounded from  black ash logs submerged in water for 4-months, a potential treatment.  It was found that these splints were still viable as basket making material but unfortunately EAB larva also survived to complete its lifecycle. These trials continue.

With the future of the ash tree species in peril and long-held traditions in jeopardy, Native Americans have ignited their communities to help preserve their cultural heritage by collecting ash seeds. Working independently and in conjunction with the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation, seed collection and storage will help to hedge genetic diversity of ash trees for future generations.

“Seed collection efforts and studying the submergence of logs will assist in the continuation of our tradition for future generations,” Church said. “Many seeds, documentation, and more studies will be needed; however each step we take will assist in efforts to sustain our cultural and heritage.”

Infestations of the emerald ash borer beetle have been detected in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin and areas in Canada.

3 Responses to “Tribes Lead Cultural Preservation Threatened by Invasive Species”

  1. Randy says:

    I had no idea that ash trees were important to Native americans, although I did realize that healthy ones are quickly becoming hard to find. Thank you for the enlightenment! :)

  2. Richard Silliboy says:

    Keeping an eye out for the (EAB)is very important, not only by the tribes or APHIS but by the general public. If you suspect that an infestation is in your area please contact your local forester. Please Do Not Move Firewood to any camping area.

  3. thomas b maracle says:

    how do i determine a black ash. i know they have 9 leaves
    i dont want to just cut down trees, but i reall need a good ash log.
    im an artist, and the art i want to do with the ash log, is on my finial bucket list.
    all trees are sacred to me. our ansisters spirits live in them.

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