Silverhorn talks about Ohio's 'Native Plants and Their People' at symposium
Hundreds of biology professionals and students gathered in Columbus for the 2023 Ohio Botanical Symposium last week. The special address, “The Roots of Culture: The Relationship between Native Plants and Native People of the Midwest,” was given by Yellow Springs resident and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Cultural Programs Manager Talon Silverhorn.
Silverhorn is an enrolled citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma — a tribe that was forcibly removed from Ohio in the 19th century.
In the past ten years, state organizations like the ODNR and The Ohio History Connection have consulted and re-established a relationship with the Eastern Shawnee and other historic Ohio tribes. Miami University has worked with The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma for decades.
At the ODNR, Silverhorn oversees American Indian historical content and interpretation in Ohio’s 75 state parks. He is developing a new Shawnee Cultural and Interpretive Center near Xenia that will be called Great Council State Park.
During his presentation at the botanical symposium, Silverhorn said he often hears misconceptions about the amount of meat in the diet of the early people of Ohio.
“When we look at our ancestors, there's not a whole lot of points in time that we see meat and the consumption of hunted foods and fauna outweigh the consumption of flora,” Silverhorn said.
He said, on average, more than 80% of the food consumed by early Ohioans were plants like hackberries and squash.
Silverhorn also spoke about the contrast between tribal and non-tribal management of lands.
“Tribal people and their environments co-evolved together. We watched the glaciers melt. We watched the mammoths die. We co-learned and co-grew with the species that eventually made up what Ohio is today,” Silverhorn said. “When we as one of the keystone species were removed from these places, the environmental impacts of that are severe.”
He referenced the widely cited figure that Indigenous peoples comprise only 5% of the world’s population but protect approximately 85% of the world’s biodiversity through stewardship of Indigenous-managed lands.
Silverhorn finished his presentation by calling on the representatives from land conservation and management organizations in the crowd to form relationships with the federally recognized tribes who traditionally inhabited the spaces they now oversee.
Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.