Plant use explained during seminar
The Cameron University Library was recently the forum for Dr. Fred Schneider’s seminar on “Native American Plant Use.”
As part of “Sharing the Spirit 2013,” the combined effort of Cameron and the Lawton Arts & Humanities Council to celebrate Native American history, the event took place at 7 p.m. Nov. 5. The presentation focused not only on the various types of plants that can be found in Oklahoma and their uses but also helped to educate the attendees on overcoming traditional stereotypes associated with the Plains Indians.
“A lot of people don’t realize the role that traditional plants played in early societies of the Great Plains,” Schneider said. “This presentation was an effort to flesh out a better sense of understanding and break the stereotypes many people have.”
Though a retired professor of anthropology and not botany, Schneider is an avid gardener and loves to conduct research about native plants and their uses. Over the years, he worked hard to collect seeds, document where they come from and how various tribes used the plants in their everyday lives.
Schneider acknolwledged a row of books on a table along the back wall, and told the audience that they were good sources on indigenous Oklahoma plants and their uses.
One thing that Schneider admitted about the various texts was their lack of knowledge about the histories of the plants, where they originally came from and which tribes used which plants for which purposes.
In an effort to remedy the chaos, Schneider announced to the audience that he is currently working on a book that will encapsulate all of the information he has been able to track down over the years. Schneider said he hopes to make it available in a single volume, though he did comment that such a feat is still years away.
About breaking stereotypes, Schneider said many people tend to think that the Plains Indians lived solely off buffalo meat, but that is far from the truth.
“Besides using plants for food and medicines, many tribes also had gardens and used plants as a means of beautification,” Schneider said.
One of the key points Schneider made was that many of the traditional uses for native plants has been lost over the years due to the lack of documentation on which plants were used for what purposes. Even within the tribal system itself, Schneider said that there were some plants that only a healer or high ranking member of the tribe would know how to use; sadly, some of that information has been lost.
Schneider said a good way to ensure the survival and prosperity of many indigenous plants is for Oklahomans to use those plants in their home gardens instead of buying plants from big name plant stores.
“Many of the plants I talked about tonight will do very well in most areas of the state,” he said. “These are the guys that are as happy as clams in this environment. They were here before we were.”
Schneider was quick to point out that the continued abundance and survival of the local fauna also influenced the natural ecosystems that are throughout the state.
He said: “Our native insects, birds, butterflies and so forth grew up on those plants. As our state grows, huge areas of land have been lost to agriculture, roads, ranching and many other forms of progress; if we can get more home gardeners to grow the plants that these creatures feed on, we can help secure their survival. Not only will you be growing some beautiful plants, but you’re also helping Mother Nature.”