July 2016
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: Cultivating the Seeds of Heritage

  Heloha Hickman is a senior at Central High School and a full-blooded Native American. He had the opportunity to attend the Southeast Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summit at Lake Placid, Florida.

Local Native American student explores the traditions of his ancestry.

Heloha Hickman understands the importance of tradition and heritage, and he’s trying to learn as much as he can about his background.

"It’s like my grandfather told me, the younger generation is our future. I guess I’m his future," Hickman said.

The Central High School senior is full-blooded Native American, half Choctaw and half Navajo. He just returned from a trip to Lake Placid, Florida, where he attended the Southeast Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summit. The summit was for Native Americans ages 15-18 from the Southeast. Those attending focused on current agricultural production and food system issues.

Hickman was one of 25 Native American students selected for the summit.

"Heloha getting to go just didn’t happen. He had to be selected," said Brad Grisgby, Hickman’s agriculture teacher at Central.

Grigsby learned of the summit through the state Future Farmers of America program. He said Hickman had to fill out a questionnaire, and write an essay on why he wanted to attend.

"This was huge for him being selected," said Kelley Joiner, Career Tech director for Lauderdale County schools.

Joiner said Hickman is the first student from the system to be selected for the summit.

"It was a great opportunity for him to be chosen and to represent our school system there," she said. "Anytime a student can be recognized for their achievement is good, and this recognized him."

Jan Kratovil, Hickman’s tutor and family friend, accompanied him on the trip.

"His ancestry and his heritage are very important to Heloha," Kratovil said. "This summit was all about learning about heritage, preserving that heritage and holding onto that for the next generations to come."

In the essay part of his application, Hickman expressed how important his family’s heritage is to him.

Students from across the Southeast were selected to attend the Southeast Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summit.  

"My tribal ancestry is the most central aspect of my identity. All of my values stem from my roots," he wrote. "I think it’s very important to educate others about authentic Native American culture because there is so much misinformation about it."

He went on to point out he hopes to change some of that misinformation.

"Giving back to my people is very important to me," Hickman wrote. "I see this conference as a way to learn information about food and agriculture from a Native perspective."

Hickman always has had a love for working outside, doing all aspects of gardening. He said most Choctaws are farmers, and he grew up farming.

"We respect the nature," said the 18-year-old whose first name means Thunderstorm.

At the summit, he learned about Native American ways and traditions when it came to farming.

"We talked a lot about our ancestors, how they farmed and grew their crops, how they fed their families," Hickman said.

He said it was interesting to hear how his ancestors had to learn to plant in a small area.

"They would dig a small hole and plant three seeds at a time," he said. "They didn’t have a lot of land or seeds, so they did what they could with what they had."

According to Kratovil, students from Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama attended the summit. All of the attendees worked closely with the Seminole tribe of Florida and visited the reservation.

"They had a chance to interact with each other and learn about the different tribes, share ideas and stories," Kratovil said.

On the Seminole Reservation, Hickman saw how different types of plants such as citrus groves and sugar cane are grown and harvested. He also sampled some traditional Native American foods such as fried bread and buffalo meat.

"One of the big things was just getting to meet the students from other tribes and talk with them," said Hickman, who is a member of the Mississippi Choctaw tribe. "We got to share some of the old stories on how our ancestors used to live."

Hickman has been invited to attend another summit in July at the University of Arkansas.

"It’s more hands-on there," he said of the gathering of Native American students from throughout United States. "We will get to work on some agriculture programs that are actually going on."

In his agriculture class at Central, Hickman has worked in the greenhouse and in the raised-bed garden the students planted. They’re growing strawberries, tomatoes, banana peppers, squash and other vegetables.

"We respect nature. I guess that’s why I like gardening, seeing things grow," he said. "It’s like the cycle of life. You plant the seed, see it grow and then harvest it.

"This is my heritage, and I want to learn all I can to help preserve it."


Tom Smith is a senior staff writer at the Times Daily. The original article may be found at http://m.timesdaily.com/news/heritage-ancestry-important-to-local-native-american-student/article_fb92d1ff-593d-5151-a2e5-fbff6920766e.html?mode=jqm. You can contact Tom at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 256-740-5757 or Twitter @TD_TomSmith.