Ross Conrad for Bee Culture Magazine

Bee Native

At the end of May 2009 I helped to set up a bee yard on an Indian reservation and teach some of the residents how to care for the bees. This effort was conducted under the auspices of Bee Native, a non-profit organization recently created in part to help bring bees and beekeeping to indigenous communities throughout the United States..

Having never been to an Indian reservation before this trip promised to be an exciting adventure. The journey began with a train trip to New York City where I met with two members of Bee Native's board of directors and founders: Gail Bruce and Helen Faraday Young. Helen had the initial idea for the creation of Bee Native. Gail having played a leading role in the establishment of the Native American Indian College Fund assisted Helen in setting up the nonprofit.

Helen and I then traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Menominee Indian reservation in Keshena, WI where we were greeted by Bee Native board member and co-founder, Michael Chapman. I later learned from Michael that “Menominee” means “gatherers of wild rice”. The Menominee are forest people and they maintain the forest that grows on their reservation lands through sustainable forestry practices.

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While there I taught a three-day beekeeping course at the College of the Menominee Nation, under the guidance of Melissa Cook, the Director of the college's Sustainable Development Institute. During the program the students assembled beekeeping equipment and then filled the newly built hives with nucleus colonies.

A lot of work went into the logistics and planning so that the equipment and tools needed would be on hand upon our arrival and the bees would arrive the second day of the course after the equipment had been prepared. Our plans threatened to become unraveled when the Post Office that shipped the bees was struck by lightening and tracking information on the bee shipment was lost. This would not have been a big problem in and of itself until we discovered that the bees where addressed to the college's street address rather than the Post Office Box where all the mail is normally delivered. After an herculean effort, Helen was able to track down the bees and drove hours to a Green Bay Post Office to pick up the bees the night before we were to install them in their new homes.

Since most of the students already held a deep respect for nature and were used to being in close proximity to the natural world, they became comfortable working with the bees relatively quickly. Unfortunately, the local bear population also took a liking to the bees and two of the five hives installed on the college campus were ransacked the first night. Luckily we were able to locate the queens from both of the molested hives and salvaged what was left of the colonies. This was a great lesson for us, as well as the would-be beekeepers, and we quickly made a trip to the hardware store down the road for bear deterrent equipment.

Future hive installations and workshops are being scheduled for a Comanche reservation in Oklahoma and a Seneca reservation in New York. For more information or to donate to the effort contact: Bee Native, 11 West 25th St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10010 (917) 679-0567, http://beenative.org