On the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, part of the Arctic Svalbard archipelago, lies the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, more commonly known as "The Doomsday Vault".
Built in an old abandoned coal mine, the building is home to over 400,000 seed samples from around the world. The idea is that the permanently frozen soil will keep the seeds at -18°C (-0.4°F), with little exposure to oxygen to prevent them from aging. Stored in this way, they will be kept safe for decades, maybe even a century, protecting Earth's crop varieties from natural catastrophes, war, and other avoidable disasters, both local and perhaps even widespread.
It's sort of like backing up your computer, but for food. As Crop Trust, the company behind the vault describe it, "it is the final back up".
Now, the Cherokee Nation will become the first tribe in the United States to store seed varieties in the vault. The Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Office collected nine samples of heirloom crops to send for safekeeping, including Cherokee white eagle corn, which is used in cultural activities and is described by Cherokee Nation as their "most sacred corn".
Other seeds sent to the seed bank include Cherokee long greasy beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, Cherokee turkey gizzard black and brown beans, Cherokee candy roaster Squash, and three other varieties of corn.
“It is such an honor to have a piece of our culture preserved forever," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said in a statement. "Generations from now, these seeds will still hold our history and there will always be a part of the Cherokee Nation in the world.
"This is history in the making," he added.
The tribe was contacted by the director of science for the Global Crop Diversity Trust after Senior Director of Environmental Resources Pat Gwin was interviewed about the Cherokee Nation's own heirloom seed bank program.
“He sent me an email and said they would be honored to have the tribe’s seeds in the seed vault,” Gwin said. "This is a tremendous opportunity and honor for the tribe. Additionally, knowing the Cherokee Nation's seeds will be forever protected and available to us, and us only, is a quite valuable thing indeed."
The seeds will be deposited in the vault on February 25.