Rivercane Restoration Alliance

Rivercane. Credit Michael Fedoroff Formation of a Rivercane Restoration Alliance

The USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX) has facilitated an alliance dedicated to combining Traditional Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and Traditional Western Ecological Knowledge to achieve successful rivercane recovery. The alliance is a collaboration between the USACE, with support from the USACE Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The goals of this alliance are to identify partners, create a shared vision, facilitate technical workshops, develop a conceptual ecological model (CEM), identify existing data and knowledge gaps, and prepare recommendations for site specific (USACE) rivercane restoration studies and projects.


Indigenous Approaches to Rivercane Restoration Workshop

On 13-15 October, 2021, the USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX), in collaboration with the Rivercane Restoration Alliance partners, hosted the Indigenous Approaches to Rivercane Restoration Workshop. The workshop was funded by the Sustainable Rivers Program. Nearly 200 people participated in the 3-day virtual workshop designed to promote traditional knowledge and understanding about the importance of rivercane to indigenous communities and how to integrate indigenous perspectives into rivercane science and recovery. Participants included Tribal partners, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, other federal and state agencies, rivercane artists, community leaders, and students. Participants shared stories about their relationships with rivercane, prepared conceptual models through facilitated small group exercises, and discussed how to collaborate on rivercane recovery projects while also expanding education on the importance of rivercane restoration. If you were unable to attend the workshop, check out our comprehensive workshop report, found here. Additionally, recordings of the workshop, lightning talks and videos are found here

The Rivercane Restoration Alliance will leverage the excitement and interest generated by the workshop into an interactive website for sharing information, resources, and stories related to rivercane restoration and recovery. The website will be a hub for accessing rivercane articles, tools, artistry, and educational materials. Future funding opportunities will focus on developing the educational materials and initiating rivercane restoration projects on public and private lands. For more information on the workshop and to join the Rivercane Restoration Alliance, please sign up for our email list. 

What is a Cultural Keystone Species?

In order for any cultural group to maintain their identity in the face of changing landscapes, being connected to the land and ecosystem is paramount.  In light of colonial influences, rapid globalization, environmental change, and dietary delocalization this connection is as important as ever to indigenous peoples.  The levels of complexity involved in reconnecting to ancestral landscapes are also immense due to geographic restrictions, governmental policies, and loss of cultural knowledge.  However, there are ways in which Federal Agencies and Tribal Nations can work together to cultivate these connections and foster new vehicles for the transmission of cultural knowledge that benefit both parties.

One avenue to explore in the creation of improved dialogue between Federal Land Managers and Indigenous groups is the role that cultural keystone species play in environmental stewardship and ecosystem vitality.  Cultural keystone species as a concept has been defined as a, “…culturally salient species that shape in a major way the cultural identity of a people, as reflected in the fundamental roles these species have in diet, materials, medicine, and/or spiritual practices” (Garibaldi and Turner 2004).  Although the bulk of the literature regarding cultural keystone species focus the attention on animal species, this project turned the attention to plants.  There are several examples in the literature of such species such as Mesquite in the American Southwest, Prickly Pear Cactus in Madagascar, and Western Red-Cedar in British Columbia.  The TNTCX has focused on Rivercane as a cultural keystone species with potential to improve riverine habit, water quality, erosion control, and cultural revitalization of practices threatened by colonization.

Rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea) is a large native grass, technically a bamboo, found mostly throughout the southeastern United States, however it ranges from Florida to eastern Texas in the south, parts of the Midwest, and north to New York. This species is crucial to the culture of many Native American communities in the Southeastern United States. For hundreds of years, rivercane material has been utilized for both sacred and mundane cultural practices critical to the cultural continuity of indigenous communities. In addition to hunting and gathering purposes, such as blow guns, fishing creels and baskets, rivercane also has many environmental benefits including erosion control, protecting and improving water quality, and providing habitat for native fish and wildlife species.

David Bushnell Jr. 1909. The Choctaw of Bayou Lacomb, St. Tammany Parish, LA.  Washington : Government Printing Office.Tom Colvin Jena Band Choctaw Basket designs, by Deanna Byrd, Choctaw Nation

Although dense stands of cane, known as canebrakes, were once abundant in the Southeastern United States, they are now a critically endangered ecosystem due to agriculture, climate, grazing, fire suppression, water management, and urbanization throughout the entirety of their range. USACE projects directly and indirectly contribute to these threats and stressors, thus the agency is taking proactive approaches to sustainable restoration practices.

Canebrake in Western NC. Credit to WCU.Arundinaria gigantea (giant cane) range map from USDA



Rivercane Restoration Workshop Summary Report

2021 Rivercane Restoration Workshop Summary Report

Be sure to register for the Rivercane Gathering event this spring:

A draft schedule has been released for the event, be sure to check it out here:

For more information on the Rivercane Restoration Alliance, please join our email list



Thank you, for your participation in the Indigenous Approaches to Rivercane Restoration Workshop.