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NC Arboretum Exhibit Combines Native Wisdom and Modern Science

Visitors learn about Hawaiian fishing practices and ecosystem management through digital interactives and games.

By Natasha Anderson

The 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum, located just south of Asheville in Pisgah National Forest, will showcase the relationship between indigenous peoples and cutting-edge science at its newest exhibit, Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science. On display Saturday, January 27, through May 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, this national traveling exhibit educates visitors about the ways in which Western research and technology and the long-held knowledge of native peoples are woven together to improve the natural world.

“The traditions of Native American populations reflects a reverence for the land and its biological resources,” says the Arboretum’s executive director George Briggs. “As we awaken to a similar appreciation, expressed through our societal trends toward environmental conservation, recycling, integrative medicine and many other initiatives, average citizens can discover a heritage and context that adds relevance to contemporary practices.”

Featuring four indigenous communities, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Roots of Wisdom shares inspiring stories of ecological and cultural restoration. Via engaging video interactives, hands-on games and the voices of elders and youth, visitors will gather resources, examine data and take part in the growing movement toward sustainability and the reclamation of ancient customs. From preserving lands to rediscovering traditional foods and crafts, guests learn about the important issues that indigenous cultures face and discover innovative ways in which age-old conventions and modern science can work together to restore vital ecosystems, provide sustainable food sources and improve human health.

“The native peoples’ sense of stewardship, serving their own lifestyle needs within the context of ecological health, is an ethic to which we all should aspire for the betterment and sustainability of our contemporary culture,” says Briggs. “An exhibit showcasing that ethic can pique interest and change behaviors for more positive societal outcomes.”

The North Carolina Arboretum is a fitting host for such an exhibit, given its history of partnership with native indigenous communities over the past several years, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. Led by research director Joe-Ann McCoy, Ph.D., the Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository has become a valuable partner in the conservation and study of black cohosh, ginseng, ramps and other native flora, and helps conserve the tribes’ culturally significant plants.

The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville. Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science. is located in the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center. Arboretum hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, November through March, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, April through October. Admission to the Arboretum is free. A standard $14 per vehicle parking fee is required for non-members. For more information, visit

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