By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Officials from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are happy with the implementation of the sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata) gathering agreement between the two governmental entities, but they see room for improvement. Entered into in March, officials have monitored the success of the agreement which currently allows up to 36 EBCI tribal members to harvest sochan in a traditional manner.
According to information from the Park, “Park and EBCI staff completed a review of traditional gathering activities conducted in 2019 and identified three possible amendments to improve the agreement: 1) allowing permitted tribal members the choice of gathering a portion of the sochan leaf known as the turkey foot or gathering whole sochan leaves; 2) clarifying text regarding gathering activities near visitor centers, trailheads, campgrounds, and picnic areas; and 3) establishing a sochan research area that would be off limits to gathering.”
Public comment is being sought until Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. Community members wishing to voice their opinion on these amendments, can read the entire amendment and comment online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm and clicking on “Sochan Gathering for Traditional Purposes – General Agreement Amendment 1” or mail comments to: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Attention: Environmental Planning and Compliance, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
Joey Owle, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, noted, “EBCI Natural Resources staff have worked closely with GSMNP staff on the creation, implementation, and monitoring of the activities allowed under the General Agreement for Sochan Gathering for Traditional Purposes by enrolled EBCI members.”
He added, “Following a successful inaugural season of sochan gathering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our teams met regularly to discuss and analyze the findings from the control plots, harvest results and testimonials from permitted gathers, and how to improve the process for the 2020 harvesting season.”
Cassius Cash, Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent, noted, “Overall, the season went well. As with any new process, there is a learning curve and we’re striving to make it more efficient in the future. We believe the proposed amendments will help clarify the gathering process so that it’s easier to understand and implement. The key to the success of the program has been communication. Park staff and EBCI leadership established a working team that met monthly leading up to the issuance of the permits and continues to meet regularly. “
Secretary Owle is also happy with the relationship between the Tribe and the Park. “We appreciate Superintendent Cash’s support of moving forward with a proposed amendment to the General Agreement that aims to enhance the gathering practices for enrolled members of the EBCI.”
He encourages participation in the comment period. “I would like to encourage our community members to take advantage of the public comment period and participate in this important process.”
The National Park Service put into practice new regulations in August 2016 whereby members of federally recognized American Indian tribes can legally perform traditional gathering of plants in national parks that encompass their traditional territory. As part of those new rules, tribes must enter into agreements with their local park such as the EBCI did with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.