Lauren’s dream is “Manuhe Kuri” (Our Good Earth) in which she will revitalize traditional Catawba foods and medicinal plants.
“I will create an environmental education curriculum for tribal youth and citizens so that they can learn about these plants and how they were used,” she told us.
Lauren’s Home and Community
Lauren, 17, an enrolled member of the Catawba Indian Nation (the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina), lives in Rock Hill on the Catabwa Reservation.
Her community struggles with low high school graduation rates and even lower college matriculation rates than those of surrounding communities. Until recently, many of the houses on the reservation did not have adequate water and sewer utilities. “Thankfully, there has been great strides in correcting this tragedy,” she says.
Access to healthy foods is also a major issue for her tribe. The closest place to buy food is a gas station about 10 minutes from her house, where they only food available are fried foods, hamburgers, hotdogs, potato chips, and candy.
Although the closest actual grocery store is about 20 minutes from her house, which may not seem far – “many tribal members don’t have a car making it very difficult for them to access healthy foods for themselves and their family.”
There is also a prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among the youth in her community.
“I have made it a point to live my life in a manner that sets an example for other youth that shows them that not participating in the health-destroying activities opens so many more positive life opportunities.”
“I have lived and grown up on the reservation my entire life. It is my home, and I find comfort from simply stepping foot on these ancestral lands.”
What motivated Lauren to develop this dream?
Many of her tribe’s known traditional, cultural and medicinal plants and trees “are on [her] tribe’s endangered list and unfortunately in some cases are no longer growing on our reservation.
“However, just growing these plants is not enough! Our tribal members need to know what these plants look like, what they were used for, how to plant them where they live on the reservation and why they should be harvesting and using the products of these plants and trees,” Lauren said.
“I thought of this dream when I noticed the lack of available nutritious food materials on the reservation and felt that a garden of indigenous plants and food would not only open my community up to healthy eating, but also enable our tribal members to learn more about our culture.”
The Dream as a Solution
As part of her Dreamstarter® project, she will create an outdoor nature classroom at the end of the Catawba Cultural Center’s Historic Wagon Trail which will be a learning lab for not only tribal youth and adults, but also all visitors to the Cultural Center.
In order to educate others on the importance of these traditional plants and their uses, she will produce an informational booklet on the plants, create signage to place beside each grouping of plants in the outdoor lab as a visible form of learning while walking along the Historic Wagon Trail.
“I also want to establish an environmental education curriculum for tribal youth and citizens so they can learn more about these traditional foods and plants, how they are used, and how to cultivate them “like our ancestors did.”
The Potential Impact in the Future
Providing a space for this education, as well as the creation of a nursery for indigenous fruit and nut trees, medicinal plants and a tribal seed bank “will also ensure the continuation of the project by the continuous supply of seeds and seedlings for our people to plant and harvest for years to come.”