2 the Outdoors: Native Americans Stand Up to Invasive Species


The attack on the natural world by invasive species is fast approaching a critical stage. Across the globe, non-native life of all types is wreaking ecological havoc.

Destructive invasive plants may be the most insidious, quietly sneaking into our ecology with the unwitting help of gardeners. Many are introduced as innocent decorative plants that are sold in nurseries and planted in yards because of their beauty. Once established, they become a threat to native plant life and, by extension, insects , animals, and humans.

Ken Parker is project manager for the Seneca Nation of Indians. “The nursery trade, what they offer is generally not native, not indigenous, and people just didn’t know,” he says. “They’ll just go purchase a plant. But New York State, I have to say, is moving toward a ban on certain invasive species within the nursery trade. It’s going to be a long battle.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians is not waiting for that battle to come to them. Parker explains that the Nation has adopted a policy committing them to planting only indigenous species in public spaces in Seneca territory.

“We’re encouraging local community members to do the same. Really, through our plants we’re promoting not only indigenous flora but also plants significant to our culture. You know, there are food plants, there are medicines, dye plants, plants for ceremonies, things that we used for buildings and cordage. It’s an important part of our culture, and also a valuable resource here,” Parker said.

The Seneca Nation is the first U.S. tribe to institute such a policy. “It’s very progressive, this administration, and the community itself,” says Parker. “Again, I think it’s something that we’ve just never verbalized. Native people have always done this, they’re the first environmentalists.”

The policy ties in to an overall move to improve the health of the community. The philosophy extends to food being grown as well. Parker says that the Nation’s “Food Is Our Medicine Program” addresses some serious health issues that affect the community.

“It’s a partnership between the Seneca Nation and the Seneca Diabetes Foundation. It’s a way for us to address our health and well-being through our plants, through healthy initiatives, and again, preserving our plants and our culture.”

The Senecas’ policy is setting a brilliant green example — one they hope reaches beyond their community to all of Western New York. Indeed, the bell that these destructive invaders represent tolls for everyone.

“This is our philosophy — it’s a philosophy of the Iroquois, the Seneca people — that everything we do now affects the next seven generations. So, we need to make a move, we need to do something. I explained about the sugar maple, that even when you plant a young sapling, even if it’s a six-foot tree, you’re looking at 20 years down the road before you can tap that and really utilize that sacred nutrients to you. So what we do now affects the next seven generations, and we need to start yesterday.”

For more information on the Nation’s policy, you can visit their website at