Bringing Native American Culture Back With River Cane

Courtesy Cherokee River Cane Initiative / The Cherokee River Cane Initiative is helping bring Native American culture back to the Cherokee Nation by replenishing the river cane supply.

Volunteers plant river cane to bring Native American culture back to Cherokee Nation.

In an effort to revive Native American culture on the Cherokee Nation, last year a group of about 50 volunteers planted more than 1,000 river cane plants inside the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge at the Cherokee River Cane Initiative, reported the Cherokee Phoenix.

Roger Cain, lead researcher at the initiative, called river cane the nation’s plastic. “It was used for construction, weaponry such as blow guns and arrows, basketry, even for floor and wall mats,” he told the Phoenix. He said a lot of it has been cut down so there was more room to grow more profitable crops, but without it, the Native American culture of the Cherokee Nation could suffer.

“I teach classes in river cane and river cane basketry, and when I do, the thing I really like to bring home to my students is that it’s just as important to sew as to reap. That’s why we’re here today so that we know as weavers and as Cherokees that we’re going to have enough river cane,” Shawna Morton Cain, Roger’s wife and Cherokee National Treasure told the Phoenix.

That’s why this initiative is important. According to the Cherokee Nation website, the plant, called i-hi in Cherokee, had almost died out and was hard to find. Brian Jackson, who works for the nation’s education department as the Joe Thornton Archery Range Coordinator, can attest to that.

“When you go looking for river cane, you’re lucky to find some,” he says in a recent Cherokee Nation video. “You can go to the river, you can go to different places that you would think would have river cane, but just because there is river cane out there doesn’t mean they are good quality, doesn’t mean they are good size… to have some at the garden down there that when they get ready to harvest and we can get river cane like this to use that’s priceless to me. It’s like going to the store. You just can’t go to the store and get river cane.”

The Joe Thornton Archery Range uses the river cane to make arrows to teach students to shoot. Historically, the Cherokee Nation also used river cane to make blow guns, fishing poles, chairs, baskets, pipe stems, and for shining clay pots.