Watonlak Hvshi season is a good time to save the river cane

Published February 6, 2023

By Chief Gary Batton


February corresponds with Crane month or Watonlak Hvshi season on the traditional Choctaw calendar. During this season, early Choctaw hunters were often in the canebrakes along the river’s edge where animals spent the harshest part of winter. Canebrakes are areas where river cane grass grows so dense that it shades out other plants and can become the only species growing in an area; sometimes these areas can be several acres in size.

River cane is culturally significant in Choctaw history and for the ecology of the southeastern United States. River cane is a member of the bamboo family, but unlike other bamboo it seldom grows higher than 20 feet, with a stem diameter of little more than an inch. The canebrakes are home to many varieties of animals and were used for materials that early Choctaw used as fishing creels, blowguns, baskets, mats, building materials, and helps prevent soil erosion.

The river cane is a symbol of the Choctaw Nation. The native bamboo grass is represented at the Choctaw Nation headquarters in its design in numerous areas of the building for its historical significance. We, as a nation, honor our faith, family, and culture by remembering where we came from and how our early Choctaw family relied on the river cane for survival. River cane is not only important to the Choctaw Nation, but to the stability it brings to the soil and the home it provides for animals.

Today, river cane is critically threatened, as 98% of it has been destroyed since the Trail of Tears. The destruction of the river cane is largely due to human development and the clearing of areas for homes. Instead of destroying the river cane a better option is to transplant it away from further development and destruction. Through partnerships between Tribes and federal agencies the restoration efforts for river cane have begun in large areas of the southeast. The Choctaw Nation has been involved in the River Cane Alliance, a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the River Cane Gathering, a partnership with the U.S. Forestry Service.

So, take some time and consider the importance of the river cane to our tribal members. You can help by seeking out river cane restoration efforts and help with transplanting or giving to groups who are working to preserve the native grass. This river cane has provided tools, comfort and food for early Choctaws and, with our help, can continue to provide well into the future.

Yakoke and God Bless!