BIXBY, Okla. – If you travel just a few miles east of Carmicheal’s Pumpkin Patch in south Bixby, you will come across one of the area’s hidden gems: the Euchee Butterfly Farm. It also happened to be the locale of the “Keeping Our Past, Protecting Our Future” conference. The two-day event featured Muscogee (Creek) and Euchee community leaders as speakers, as well as academic conservation scholars.
Jane Breckinridge is the owner of the Euchee Butterfly Farm and descends from Euchee and Mvskoke heritage. The land the farm sits on holds a special meaning for Breckinridge.
“This is the first intertribal gathering in Oklahoma to really talk about resilience to the way our planet is changing,” Breckinridge said. “The place where people are coming together to do that is here in Muscogee Nation and on original allotment land.”
The conference was attended by Indigenous people from the First Nations in Canada, Mexico, Minnesota, New Mexico and the West Coast.
Breckinridge explained that the event offered solutions to heal and maintain the environment. This involved science and the cultural wisdom of tribal elders.
The 160-acre allotment has stayed in Breckinridge’s family for generations. It was originally owned by her great-grandmother, Neosho Parthenia Brown.
“We’ve been here a very long time, it’s always been a place of sanctuary,” Breckinridge said. “One of the things my great-grandmother always felt so strongly about was using the land for her people, family and the extended community.”
According to Breckinridge, Brown would use her allotment to grow food, and house people she knew who were in need of a place to stay. They would sleep in a small farm house located on the property that was always full.
Hundreds of plant species can be found throughout the property today. According to Breckinridge, some of these species can no longer be found in any other part of Oklahoma, making the farm a plant sanctuary as well.
“The more people know the little things they can do, the bigger ripple effect we’ll see” – Okcate Smith McCommas
All of the butterflies on the farm are raised by the Native Raising Natives Project, which provides tribal citizens with training, supplies and support to become butterfly farmers. According to nativebutterflies.org, it is the only tribal butterfly farming program in the United States.
Okcate Smith McCommas (Mvskoke) was one of the attendees at the conference. Although there is plenty of research and information about pollinators and conservation online, Smith McCommas appreciated how the conference was thorough in presenting data on these topics.
“I’ve really appreciated the way they have broken it [research data] down for us,” Smith McCommas said. “They’ve really specified what these organizations are doing as far as climate change and pollinator habitats.”
Pollinators play an important role in the ecosystem. Insect species like bees, moths and butterflies make significant contributions to plants and food crops. However, their numbers are shrinking.
“They’re disappearing. With Monarchs they are so big and showy, we notice when they’re disappearing” Breckinridge said. “Monarchs are just the canary in the coal mine for what is happening with all of our pollinators.”
Breckinridge said the most effective change in conservation starts with a conversation. This includes advocacy, or simply talking about the subject with others within your community. Not only did the conference propose advocacy as a solution, it also modeled it for its attendants.
“If we know more and we know better than we should try to spread that knowledge as much as possible,” Smith McCommas said. “It starts with our own neighborhoods, our own families, our own communities.”
For visitors that would like to schedule a tour of the Euchee Butterfly Farm or to simply learn more, they can be contacted at 918-364-9103, or by mail at P.O. Box 179 Leonard, OK 74043.