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DATE: March 2002

Database of Native American plant lore gets used by Native Americans

DEARBORN---A massive collection of information about how Native Americans used plants, assembled by a scholar at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, is being used in some new ways by Native Americans in Utah.

"The school district here, which has a majority of Native American students, is putting together a big bilingual (Navajo/English) website that will have many parts, including a 'plants' section," according to teacher Theresa Breznau. "We are using the references in the ethnobotany database to describe how some of the historic tribes in this area used plants."

Breznau teaches in the San Juan County School District in the Four Corners region, where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah come together.

The database was assembled by Daniel E. Moerman, professor of anthropology at UM-Dearborn, with support from the National Science Foundation. The list includes more than 47,000 uses of nearly 4,000 species of plants, as food, medicine, dyes and fabric.

The database, which is available at www.umd.umich.edu/cgi-bin/herb, receives nearly 88,000 hits per year. "That's been going on for years," Moerman said. The database was also published in book form, titled Native American Ethnobotany, by the Timber Press in 1998.

On several occasions, the information has been used by Native American groups who were working on habitat reconstruction, or developing medicinal gardens based on traditional plant lore.

"I get a lot of mail about the ethnobotany database, but this message from Utah was particularly interesting," Moerman said. "You might notice how in this case, the anthropologist is the informant for the 'natives.'"

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