2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.


Introduce Yourself and your tribe

McKalee Steen, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma 


What are the three sister plants?

The three sisters plants are corn, beans and squash. (Corn = selu, ᏎᎷ, beans = duya, ᏚᏯ; squash = kayvsequa, ᎧᏴᏎᏆ, pumpkin = iya, ᎢᏯ) . Pumpkins are more common for Cherokee people to grow, rather than squash. 

Though modern food production relies on monoculture of these plants, Native people grow many different varieties of corn,  bean, and squash (or gourds/ pumpkins). When we grow heirloom seeds, we are preserving not only our culture, but important biodiversity in these crop varieties. 

How do they work?



Why is TEK/ the three sister plants important?

TEK and the three sisters plants are important for our physical and  spiritual well-being, as well as on historical, and cultural levels. The plants, when cultivated together, provide each other with nutrients, protection, and support. Though my ancestors didn’t have the lense western science to explain why growing these crops together worked so well, they knew from generations of close interactions with the land that this was a successful system for providing a food source. Now, when we grow and harvest the three sisters plants together, it connects us to our ancestors, our language, and our cultural practices. Utilizing these plants together has important health implications for a balanced diet. Beans provide protein, corn - fiber, and squash - important vitamins that we couldn’t get from other sources of food. Just as they balance each other while growing on the Earth, they also provide balance for us in our bodies. 


What do you want to tell people who may be non-native about TEK?

I think one thing that is important to keep in mind with TEK is that, though the science of today might not recognize our people as scientists, they very much were - and are. The knowledge that we can gain from utilizing TEK comes from millenia of experiments that our ancestors conducted to optimize the efficiency and success of our Native food systems. There seems to be a common misconception that Native people conserve the environment by passively sitting back and not interacting with the land. This is false. Native Americans have been impacting the landscape of the U.S. for thousands of years through actively tending the plant and animal populations on which they rely. It only makes sense, then, that we should respect and learn from the generations of experimentation and work that have delivered us robust, complex, and beautiful systems for growing our food. 

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