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Sprouting interest in Native American culture

The Native American Network in Bartlesville tapped into ancient agricultural techniques to carry on indigenous traditions at the Phillips 66 Research Center in Oklahoma.

Members of the Employee Resource Group planted a small garden in the spring outside the Research Center using seeds of corn, beans and squash — a trifecta known as the Three Sisters that is at the center of Native American agriculture and cuisine.

“It’s become a conversation starter,” said NAN member and Phillips 66 Knowledge Center Supervisor Laura Allen-Ward. “Having those conversations creates a common interest and is the starting point of talking about inclusion, diversity and cultural awareness.”

When planted together, a technique known as companion planting, the three crops help one another grow. The corn provides stability for the vines from the beans, while the beans pull down nitrogen to help the squash grow. The large leaves from the squash provide shade for the roots.

It’s a tradition that survived the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a law that led to the forced displacement of nearly 60,000 Native Americans from their southeastern lands to a designated Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma, between 1830 and 1850. 

“Native Americans filled their pockets with these heirloom seeds to take on the 1,200-mile march, preserving a vital piece of their culture,” said Susan Burdett, Phillips 66 Associate and NAN lead.

Allen-Ward first had the idea to grow a Three Sisters garden at the Research Center after successfully growing one at her home last year with her children, who are Native American. She brought the idea to Research Center chapter lead and Phillips 66 Senior Technician Lacy Hamilton. 

Hamilton said the most rewarding part of the garden, which sits just outside the Research Center’s cafeteria, has been seeing her colleagues’ interest in learning more about Native American culture.

“It is encouraging to see participation from co-workers who haven’t been active NAN members in the past,” Hamilton said. “We are building allies and seeing others excited about Native American culture.”