Niagara Gazette — CATTARAUGUS RESERVATION — The Seneca Indian Nation is strengthening its roots to the land with a new commitment to use only indigenous plants and trees in public landscaping.
The Western New York tribe is believed to be the first to formalize a practice that tribes throughout the country are embracing as a way to preserve Native American culture and the environment.
From now on, instead of Austrian pines, Japanese maples and other foreign species, there will be native balsam firs, sugar maples and white ash trees outside Seneca schools, office buildings and casinos. Wild bee balm, cinnamon fern and butterfly weed that grew in abundance on their own will take the place of the Dutch bulbs and other non-native flowers and shrubbery that have become typical in commercial landscaping.
The planting policy approved by the Seneca Tribal Council this spring is an offshoot of the tribe's "Food is our Medicine" gardening program launched last year with the goal of reducing diabetes by reconnecting members with the earth and the healthy fruits and vegetables they once relied on.
Tribal leaders said the notion that the land would provide food, remedies, building materials and fibers was becoming lost in modern times.
"The lawn is a European concept. Grass does not serve any function," noted Ken Parker, the nation's native plant consultant. "There's no habitat for wildlife. It doesn't feed any butterflies or do anything for the bees."
Now, where manicured grass used to grow outside the William Seneca administration building, high-bush blueberries, yellow honeysuckle, sweet fern and St. John's wort thrive.
"People plant plants around because they look nice and don't care where they're from," Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. said. "We were starting to lose that part we had centuries ago when the natives were here and they had all these things in front of them."