SVDN Lands – Skinner Native Seeds Project (2023.06.28)

SVDN Lands – Skinner Native Seeds Project

About a month ago we visited Skinner Farm, John Skinner specializes in traditional native grasses that grew here in the area hundreds of years ago.  SVDN hopes to reseed to bison pastures that will need it, and possibly have some of the surrounding lands return to their natural Prairie grassland roots.  Traditionally this area was a rich biodiverse area that teamed with diverse wildlife, that of birds and mammals and plants and wetlands and grasses unparalleled anywhere else in the world.  Animals that lived here varied from the biggest land species in North America, Wood Bison, all the way to the tiniest of insects and even to the microscopic level of microbes and organic matter that existed even beneath the ground, in the living and rich and fertile soils themselves.

This rich fertile soil became the target of settlement and the greatest enemy to the prairie grassland region showed itself, the plow, due to the rich soils and fertile farming lands, agriculture and farming quickly started replacing the prairie grassland region at any alarming rate, now with less than one percent of those grasslands left, it has triggered a series of events that has left the prairie grassland region reeling sending countless species on the endangered or protected list within the area

With the help of our lead environmentalist Cheyenne Iron man, the gardening experts from SVDN Jennifer McIvor and Ainsley Tacan and our lands staff and of course leadership,  we hope to help restore and protect these lands by reestablishing as much of the traditional grasses as possible, the concept is simple, by reestablishing the traditional diets of the bison directly onto SVDN pastures, the overall health of the bison, soil quality and biodiversity to the many forms of life that depend upon could start making a change for the better, and long term change for generations to come (7 generational thinking).

Skinner has spent the last 24 years perfecting this process and his advice from his visit here to the nation was a 3-grass blend, which in his experience has worked great in and around our surrounding areas. This was the traditional grasses of the area hundreds of years ago before crops and invasive species were planted, changing the landscape to what we see now to help the farming and agriculture practices that have been pursued by farming the lands.

Thanks to leadership decision on banning all sprays and anything with “cide” in the name, harmful practices such as growing and planting canola and other related crops, which are hard on the land, will finally let this land be rid of such crops and allow the healing process to take hold where the canola has left desolate conditions on the land.

AAFC specialist Melanie Dubois, Sr. Riparian & Biodiversity Biologist, expressed real concern when she visited alongside John Skinner.  I directly spoke with her and asked her question geared toward restoring SVDN soil health, and she informed me that in her extensive research with respects to canola farmers, even 10 years later, surrounding flowers still had traces of canola and the chemicals used in the farming process.  This was just the surrounding plants and flowers; we are not even talking about the actual fields they were grown in.

Melanie concern and tone caught my attention, especially considering her work with flowers and bee’s and the pollination process of plants and flowers in the area.  Her work and focus on the interactions of wildlife (including plants, animals, insects) and natural and/or altered systems within agricultural landscapes painted a picture where it was easy to see why this work needs to start now.

With the support of leadership and the pursuit of a better way of life for the Dakota Oyate, it was nice to see this important environmental work start, not only for a better way of life for the community and its people, but for the bison to have a better life as well.  Not only will this better the diet of the bison and so in turn improve herd health but improve the herd birthing rates and help the herd in reproducing more quickly with less trouble and health related issues that tie into proper diets of the traditional bison diet.  The wood bison are considered a threatened species of species at risk.

As I’ve heard it said to me many times now here in the Dakota community, a very simple but powerful and beautiful phrase, “the bison took care of us traditionally for generations and historically in the past and now it is time for us, the Dakota people, to take care of the bison and return that favor, it’s our turn to take care of the bison now”. 

I think this is a great message and it can also go for the lands, the soils and the grasses and the many species that call these prairies and grasslands home, I recently attended a conference where I heard a powerful message spoken by an elder that coincides with this Dakota teaching and way of thinking. The message was simple but profound to me by nature.

“We need to be the voice of the voiceless, the plants cannot speak, the animals cannot speak, the soils cannot speak, the lifeforce of water cannot speak, the lands cannot speak, the trees cannot speak …. but we can, and we need to be the voice that protects them, the voice of the voiceless, we are those people and that voice”. 

Skinner farms will be offering some training sessions and allowing us to use and copy his teaching about native grasses and we will be looking to complete his extensive research with the traditional names of the plants and flowers we hope to establish within the new grasses.  We has also done extensive work into wildflowers for the past decade, (10 years), and this can help us monitor the chemicals left form the canola operations so we can monitor the positive change for the Oyate as it dissipates, this along with organic farming and proper carbon transfer in the soils could help us reactivate the fertile soils that once existed in these lands, and we can save and recover the many species that consider these lands home.

-SVDN Lands Manager