The Elders' Circle of the Plant Conservation Alliance Medicinal Plant Working Group (PCA-MPWG) met April 5 - 6 at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Arlington, VA. The Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA), the umbrella organization for this group, is a consortium of ten federal agencies and more than 170 non-federal cooperators working together to conserve plants native to the United States. The PCA-MPWG, one of four working groups affiliated with this organization, is just over a year old. Its primary focus is to faciliate conservation on behalf of U.S. native medicinal plants. Members include representatives from government, academia, tribes, conservation organizations, and industry.
The PCA-MPWG includes, as an important element in its strategy, an initiative to encourage participation among tribes and other holders of traditional medicinal plant knowledge who care about the future of wild populations of these plants in the United States. This initiative led to the creation of an Elders Circle, comprised of Native American elders nominated by the Ethnobotany Committee of the PCA-MPWG. The Elders Circle is committed to protecting and preserving indigenous plants and plant communities used in traditional medicine.
During its first meeting, the Elders' Circle elected a Chair, identified their mission and goals, selected the site and time of their next meeting, and endorsed a group of projects.
Leon Secatero, Canoncito Navajo,
Chair of Elders' Circle
Tis Mal Crow, Hitchiti Cherokee, Elder for Public Relations
Chief Rudy Hall, Accohanock, Elder for Eastern Region
Jane Dumas, Kumeyaay, Elder for Western Region
Cecelia Mitchell, Mohawk, Elder for Northern Region
John George, Catabwa, Elder for Southern Region
Susan Burdick , Yurok/Karuk
Lilia Adecer "Firefly" Cajilog, Tawo Iyonay
Chief Ray Couch, Cherokee of the Applachians
Mary Hall, Accohanock
David Holland, Accohanock
To preserve and protect plants of cultural significance to tribes in their natural habitat and ecosystems for the future, so that these plants may be available to future generations carrying out traditional practices.
Train and educate tribes to ensure the protection of medicinal plants and their habitats in ways that reinforce and revitalize plant knowledge among tribal people. As appropriate, engage in plant restoration. Also, educate non-natives to understand the significance of protecting native tribal plants, so that they can assist tribes in plant protection and restoration.
1. Develop a questionnaire that can be sent to tribal medicine people to determine what kind of information would help them most with their medicinal plant conservation activities.
This task is part of a bigger vision held by the Chair of the Elders' Circle to provide tribes with medicinal plant conservation information and to better serve tribal needs for environmental data. A questionnaire or survey would help to determine just how much information tribes already have about environmental issues, particularly in regard to medicinal plants. Regional representatives, in conjunction with the Chair, will develop appropriate questions for the survey, to be reviewed and disseminated by the Elders' Circle.
2. Develop a list by region of culturally sensitive plants significant to tribes. Also, identify habitat types (forest, wetlands, grasslands).
Each regional representative will coordinate the list of plants from their region, then combine that list with those of the other Elders' Circle representatives. Ultimately, this combined list will be compared with plants listed by the Conservation and Sustainability Committees as plants of concern for which conservation activities need to be conducted.
3. Proceed with plant inventory and training project with the Accohanock and the Appalachian Cherokee.
The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, holds medicinal plants donated by the U.S. Botanic Gardens for interested tribes, an effort facilicated by the PCA-MPWG as a product of its Ethnobotany Committee in the fall of 2000.
When these plants arrived, the Accohanock traveled to the University to receive and bless them. This event served as a catalyst for a proposal by the PCA-MPWG cooperator, Sacred Seed Project, in conjunction with the Accohanock, to inventory Accohanock tribal lands for medicinal plants. The project also includes training in inventory and monitoring methodology. Following approval by the Elders' Circle, this project is scheduled to begin in May.
4. Consult and provide advice on all aspects of the industry-sponsored symposium organized to bring a conservation message to the commercial health care products industries that use medicinal plants.
This symposium (September 27 - 29, 2001, in Washington, DC), sponsored by several industry members of the PCA-MPWG, is intended to provide information to representatives of health care industries on the importance of developing policies and action plans to help conserve medicinal and aromatic plants. The goal of the symposium is to encourage industry action to preserve medicinal and aromatic plant biodiversity. At the invitation of those planning the event, the Elders Circle agreed play an integral role in planning the symposium, as well as participating actively.
5. Provide information to the National Congress of the American Indian about the group's purpose and goals. Consider areas of collaboration, ways of joining resources, and potential projects. Consider opportunities for collaboration with similar groups.
The National Congress meets in May. Discussion was held about whether the Elders' Circle would have sufficient time to contact them. Other groups also were mentioned. Further discussions need to be held to determine the kind of material to share and the best way to contact these groups.
Future Meeting Plans
Cecelia Mitchell offered to host the next meeting in Fall 2001 at Akwesasne on the border between the U.S. and Canada. An effort is underway to develop an agenda within the next few months.