Roots of Wisdom showcases the ways in which the traditional knowledge of indigenous people and cutting-edge sciences are applied to challenges that face society today. The exhibit, which runs through May 6, 2018, in the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center, features four indigenous communities, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in Western North Carolina.

A grant from the National Science Foundation provided the funding for the multi-year collaboration that included the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

EBCI Cooperative Extension Agent David Cozzo played a critical role in connecting members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.  Here’s what he has to say about the exhibit.

1) How did you get involved in creating Roots of Wisdom?

For 14 years now I’ve been working on the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources (RTCAR). It was this work that caught the attention of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibit didn’t represent initiatives in the eastern U.S., and the creators wanted to find a good example to include. I was able to put the Museum in touch with tribal members here in Western North Carolina.

2) What was it about your work that interested the exhibit creators?

My program’s focus on river cane, both from a cultural and conservation perspective, sparked their interest. RTCAR is unique in its ability to focus on culturally related conservation problems and providing funding to target areas. Having Cherokee artists relay their relationship with river cane along with inclusion of its ecological services made this a well-balanced portion of the exhibit.

3) What was it about this exhibit that appealed to you?

The goal of the exhibit is to tell contemporary stories of conservation by bringing together the voices of native communities. In many cases we see a local relationship with the natural world that draws on traditional knowledge. In cases where that knowledge has disappeared, there are inspiring examples of how these native communities work with others to re-create their lost knowledge.

4) How did you feel when you saw the exhibit at The North Carolina Arboretum?

I was pleased to see how each element of the exhibit celebrated the native people who are on the front lines of conservation and making such a difference in their communities. Of course, it was exciting to see the work of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians represented so beautifully. To see RTCAR receive this kind of national recognition is something that gives me great satisfaction.