In the News

Cherokee leaders want permission to gather a traditional plant in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They say sochan feeds their bodies and is rooted in their heritage.  For thousands of years, Cherokee people gathered the kale-like plant that’s full of vitamins and minerals. It is normally against the rules to remove plants from national parks, but recent modifications to regulations could allow the to tribe to gather sochan for traditional reasons.  “This is something that is an investment for our future, and, hopefully, with preserving our culture and accessing these landscapes that we once belonged to,” said Tommy Cabe, a Cherokee Forest resources specialist.

With the modification change, the National Park Service and Cherokee Tribe can start outlining how sochan might be harvested in a way that honors their culture and protects the park.  Any agreement requires an outside environmental assessment.  “You do have to have a finding of no significant impact to then complete those next steps,” Dana Soehn, spokesperson for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said.

Cabe and Cherokee Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joey Owle said the Cherokee method of harvesting sochan causes no harm.  “When you take off the tips, you’re leaving some growth,” Owle explained.  “This is an opportunity now to be able to merge our traditional ecological knowledge with Western science, to prove that these methods that we’ve been doing for millennia are more sustainable,” Cabe said. “The way we harvest it increases seed production.”  The assessment, at a cost of $68,000 to the Cherokee Tribe, irks some leaders. But, Tribal Council signed off on the bill, concluding that there is more value to the possibility of bringing sochan back into the Cherokee diet.

“Ultimately, we’d like to serve these types of resources in our school cafeteria,” Cabe said.  The assessment is underway and expected to be finished in the middle of next year. Cabe expects a positive finding.  He said any foraging for sochan in the park by the tribe will be controlled, including when, where and how much can be gathered.  “It will be a permitting-holder type of system,” he said.  The agreement requires only local consumption of the plant and no commercial uses.  It’s a pact over sochan that could nurture the interests of the park and tribe.  “It’s our hope that we can enter into this agreement in a way that allows us to honor that tradition and also continues to protect that population for them,” Soehn said.

“We’ve been here. We’re always going to be here,” Cabe said. “And this is something that is an investment for our future and, hopefully, preserving our culture.”

The agreement applies only to collecting sochan in the park. Requests to gather other plants must be submitted one by one. Cherokee leaders said they’d like ramps – a type of onion – considered next.  They also hope this first agreement sets a precedent for other tribes to begin their own environmental assessments and that Congress might earmark some funding for those studies.