Cherokee seed project sows respect for the past, hope for the future
January 16th, 2014
02:00 AM ET
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The Cherokee Indians are preserving the roots of their heritage with a program that allows officially recognized members of the tribe to access seeds that are unique to the Cherokee Nation.

Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker explained the seeds' lineage to CNN. "This strain of seeds came with us on the Trail of Tears," he said, referring to the forced migration of Cherokee nation from their land east of the Mississippi to an area that is now Oklahoma. The 15,000-person march took place in 1838 and 1839 under Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy, and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4000 Cherokees, due to starvation and sickness.

"They have been preserved and grown every year before that, and they are the basic foods God gave us that we grew long before the contact with Europeans," Baker continued.

The seeds available through the Cherokee Heirloom Seed Project possess unique traits that have long made them valuable to the Cherokee Nation, said Baker. "[The seeds] have specific properties to them that are resistant to drought and they are part of our history, culture and heritage and they mean a great deal to us. The big seed companies are genetically engineering and coming up with seeds that are drought tolerant, that we possess naturally."

Baker takes special pride in the Cherokee White Eagle dent corn offering. "If you look at each individual seed there is an eagle on the corn," he said.

Heirloom seeds - which come from plants that have remained genetically unchanged and have been open-pollinated (by insects, birds, wind, etc.) for at least 50 (some say 100) years - are prized by cooks, farmers and scientists not just for their exquisite flavor, but also for their genetic diversity, and the stories they tell about generations long past. Baker embraces that mission.

"We are going to keep the seed stock alive and keep storing and keeping them pure," he promised.

The Natural Resources Department's current offerings include two breeds of corn, two kinds of beans (including Trail of Tears beans), two gourds and medicinal tobacco, traditionally used for Cherokee customs. At this time, they are only available to members of the Cherokee Nation who have a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. The seeds are not available in stores, and eligible parties may request two varieties via an in-person appointment or

Chief Baker believes the program, which started in 2006, underscores the idea of Cherokees helping Cherokees. "We think we have plenty for our members, and we are growing the gardens every year to provide us with the seed stock. But at this point our citizens are the only ones that seeds are being made available to. If more than 5,000 packages of seeds get requested, then we will distribute more."

This is no small gesture, as the seeds also provide a formidable food source. “If you plant corn and you decided to save the seeds, one packet of seed corn would probably make enough corn to share with a hundred families,” Baker said.

"This is just another way we can preserve our link to the land."

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soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Doug

    Fortunately, the two types of seeds mentioned in this article are far from exclusivity. I've been planting Trail of Tears beans for over seven years. All seeds listed in article can be found at baker creek seeds aka

    January 20, 2014 at 2:33 am |
  2. 10lilndn's...

    my tribes r from cali, YOKUT/MONO.i mean absolutely no disrespect to the CHEROKEE NATION, but i gotta say that most white ppl i have met my entire life, once they know im ndn, "here it comes" i say to myself, or surprise that person by saying "wait!i bet ur cherokee!".ALWAYS ALWAYALWAYS CHEROKEE!!disrespectful to CHEROKEE NATION & NATIVES!STOP DOING IT!!i know it's a joke with my family & friends.please stop.

    January 19, 2014 at 11:17 pm |
    • 10-key Cop

      Please use complete words, some punctuation and something resembling English grammar. "... joke with my family & friends" then something from a telegram, is what I got from your post.

      January 20, 2014 at 6:39 am |
  3. gstlab3

    seeds like young minds should be preserved from any and all corruption from the outsiders and those who would enslave us to them.,
    anyone here think that our public schools look like gmo frankenfood?

    January 19, 2014 at 7:57 pm |
  4. KieranH

    How the cherokees save seeds? In jars....

    January 19, 2014 at 7:50 am |
  5. BOB

    they are the only real americans and it is ashame they don't get more respeck. i allways think what biggets white men are they killed the male and breed there women how sick is that

    January 19, 2014 at 5:46 am |
    • Dee Malone

      The American Natives came to the U.S, from Europe. I am part Cherokee

      January 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
      • Saj

        That is only a recent theory, one that always changes. And also a theory that does not apply to ALL Natives, most/ many of us... our roots cannot be figured out; or once something is thought to be... it gets smashed down later by new stuff, and it confuses scientists, etc...
        It is wisest to just listen to our history that our ancestors told, there's a reason for it; many of those stories imply that we were already here or that we came here from out of this planet. For being "part Cherokee", your comment was a bit disrespectful to us in my personal opinion, and to our ancestors, it's something "the others" would say as an argument to try validating their access and destruction to our homeland. By the way, I'm full Native; Apache, Cherokee, and Blackfoot.

        January 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm |
    • Whee Doahgee

      Bob, if you're looking for respect, you might try using a bit of correct spelling.

      January 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  6. abbydelabbey

    Thank you, Cherokees. We have forgotten to respect Mother Earth. Hopefully, we will remember the wisdom that the indigenous peoples had as they seemed to understand their relationship to the environment much better than we do today.

    January 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
  7. Jack 2

    Cherokee Nation-Paul Revere and The Raiders

    They took the whole Cherokee Nation
    And put us on this reservation
    Took away our ways of life
    The tomahawk and the bow and knife

    They took away our native tongue
    And taught their English to our young
    And all the beads we made by hand
    Are nowadays made in Japan

    Cherokee people, Cherokee tribe
    So proud to live, so proud to die

    They took the whole Indian Nation
    And locked us on this reservation
    And though I wear a shirt and tie
    I�m still a red man deep inside

    Cherokee people, Cherokee tribe
    So proud to live, so proud to die

    But maybe someday when they learn
    Cherokee Nation will return
    Will return
    Will return
    Will return
    Will return

    January 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm |
    • nc2012

      it always interest me to see talk of culture ~ at what point was gambling casinos introduced into the Cherokee culture? so they tear down mountains to maintain the culture? even though it is considered a wetland area? pleezzee talk crazy some where else..

      January 20, 2014 at 9:02 am |
    • nc2012

      ok one other point check out the local zoo in NC at the Cherokee Indian Nation, the bears are not even taken care of properly. they suffer in cement pits !!! CEMENT PITS.. It looks like a zoo from 1890.. they can not see the trees they once climbed. They are there for entertainment purposes only I thought the bear was sacred to the Indian Nation? Can someone explain what part of the culture this relates to?

      January 20, 2014 at 9:07 am |
  8. Jack 2

    cherokee people so proud to proud to die. From the song by Mark Lindsay

    January 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm |
    • sir

      someday when we've learned. indian nation will return. will return. will return. will return.

      January 18, 2014 at 1:28 am |
  9. J Russ

    tsalagi......interesting comments here, maybe a bit off topic but lincoln is the only president that forced federal troops to fire on their fellow citizens. Sadly all of us are worse off from his actions, the biggest disgrace is his elevation to American hero in our federal schools.


    January 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
    • sir

      you sir, are quite the dummy. you parents must have taught you well.

      January 18, 2014 at 1:33 am |
    • Bucko

      I learned it was the confederacy that fired on Fort Sumter. Was Lincoln president of the Confederacy?

      January 18, 2014 at 9:35 am |
      • woweverynametaken

        Yeah, and if the confederacy had been sending troops and arms to a similar fort inside the borders of a northern state, you think the US Army would have just sat back and let it happen without firing any shots? That's an interesting interpretation of events, but what they were doing amounted to an act of war and they had already received plenty of time and warning to avoid confrontation if so desired.

        January 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bettie

      J Russ, President Harding sent military troops and air support in to WV in 1921 to fight coal miners who were battling for the right to unionize.

      January 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Yakman2


    January 17, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Svgi

    ᎣᏍᏓ, ᏍᎩ :)

    January 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm |
  12. Daniel

    I have Cherokee ancestors, my father was a member of the tribe, and I have the documents allotting land to my great great grandmother, circa 1904. This is an awesome story.

    January 17, 2014 at 8:55 am |
  13. keepagrin

    I LOVE when we go to these Indian sites or posts....As one man said we look back into our past and others as well, we all are trying to move forward in our own ways. But as our Indian friends here try to share, we can show then repect for there time to give to us all. I Love there in put to Give and Share, and if you dont, then move on down the road with repect for your own self....Please...Please...Please....Thank You to you ALL...

    January 17, 2014 at 1:51 am |
    • keetoowah tsalagi

      A'ho! Much love kindness and respect! Blessings!

      January 17, 2014 at 6:55 am |
  14. Diablo

    Checked out that website. Holy white people batman!

    January 16, 2014 at 10:46 pm |
    • keetoowah tsalagi

      Many cherokee are mixed bloods because we dont use blood quantum. If you have a drop of our blood, we will teach you our ways. Im also going to bring to light to you that skin color does not dictate genetics. You see light skinned people but did you look at their noses, cheek bones, eyes, hair, wide feet, missing the alcohol enzyme etc etc. You have been trained to stop analyzing people at the skin level. By the way full bloods are dark very dark. Almost black in appearance. So if you see red tonned tsalagi, youre looking at a mix blood. Get off the skin color racist train. Try some love. Blessings.

      January 17, 2014 at 6:26 am |
      • Descendant

        Thank you for this perspective. I am in documentable but you could see it clearly in my father and his father.

        The story of European contact cannot be fully told, because it is personal by family, told orally, and so many were lost to disease, conflict, and removal.

        January 17, 2014 at 11:40 am |
        • Descendant

          Undocumentable* in post above.

          January 17, 2014 at 11:41 am |
      • Chris Fears

        My great grandfather is full blood cherokee. However we ran into issues with the tribe due to a difference in pronunciation of a first name - "nana" verse "nancy" for a great grandmother proving the linkage. Even if given the benefit of the doubt.....we were on the Old Settlers role vice the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory (Dawes) Roll 1889-1914 so legally cant be part of the tribe without going to court. Whats funny is you can clearly see old pictures of my great grandfather who absolutely has native american features. We could care less about the benefits but only want to have an affiliation with the tribe. My children are on the rolls because my wife is a greater percentage than I am. So at least some of my family is part of the tribe officially.

        My uncle–who is not officially on the roll... doesnt care and builds and sells tribal dance attire at pauwaus.

        January 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm |
        • Lee Rhodes

          I am registered Osage, but great grandmother was half Cherokee & her parents came over the T of T. No matter the tribe, original American blood gives one an introspective relationship to the past. We are who we are from our past.

          January 17, 2014 at 10:23 pm |
      • Wannetta

        Such neat stories. My Great Grandmother and her family were on the Trail of Tears. She met my Great Grandfather in Hot Springs, Arkansas and they married and moved to the Dover area. The rest of her family continued on to Oklahoma and as far as I know, they never made contact again. We don't have any documentation, so we never tried to join. It would be cool to try and find our family there. They were the Hawks.

        January 17, 2014 at 11:24 pm |
  15. Confused

    I am confused. I went to their site and saw a bunch of white people.......these are Cherokees? Lame.

    January 16, 2014 at 8:51 pm |
    • Julie

      Yeah, because we all look alike, right?

      January 16, 2014 at 9:48 pm |
    • Lee Rhodes

      How insanely rude! "Reddies" no longer, Native Americans have survived on their ability to adapt. And we are still here.

      January 17, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
  16. Chanel

    I love visiting the reservation and seeing heritage and pride restored to the tsalagi (Cherokee). My ancestors were Creek and Cherokee on both side of my family. Those seeds are precious and need to be doled out to those who wish to preserve the heritage.

    January 16, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
  17. Serge Storms

    This is cool. If you like this you should look up the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, it's awesome.

    January 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
  18. Runs with Runny Nose

    "god gave us the seeds"

    Sure, some super being overlord wanted you to have the seeds.

    January 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm |
    • Keith

      You might not be as big an a hole if you had learned about God from them instead of your Christian parents.

      January 17, 2014 at 10:16 am |
  19. Trail of tears

    I first heard of the Trail of Tears from a friend in high school. He told me about it because it was not in any high school history books. His family was from Oklahoma and were Cherokee. It was a terrible tragedy and a huge stain upon the history of the US.

    So good to read about the Cherokee and their saving of these seeds. May their seeds continue for a thousands of years.

    January 16, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
    • Daniel

      Hi, it is really awesome that you learned this from your friend. Respect, to both of you.

      January 17, 2014 at 8:58 am |
  20. someoneelse

    This is a very good idea. I am very concerned about all the GMO products that are so widely distributed without any consideration of what could be happening to our food chain.

    January 16, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
    • David Weaver

      Nonsense. The scientists who are involved in modern-day plant breeding are very concerned about preserving genetic diversity. Many research articles are published each year on the topic of evaluating, storing, and utilization of our genetic resources.

      January 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm |
    • Wootings

      That's because you're ignorant, and other ignorant people are playing off your ignorance to create fear.

      The irrefutable fact of the matter is that modern GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, etc. are the primary reason why there's so many of us, and that we're in such good health and have so much food to eat.

      January 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
  21. ug

    This is so racist...

    January 16, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
    • Confused

      How is that? They are all real Cherokees here

      January 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm |
      • keetoowah tsalagi

        No they are tsalagi. They wouldnt be representing the nation without paper trails and genetic tests. You like many have been trained via propaganda to stop analyzing people at the skin level. Did you analyze their noses, hair, cheek bones, wide feet, eyes, hair texture, and I know for a fact you cant see if they are missing the enzyme to break down alcohol (which only asians and natives are missing). The tsalagi nation does not require blood quantum. If you have a drop of blood we will teach you our ways. We do not deny our ancestors children in any fashion. There are special places on our reservations that mixed bloods are forbidden to see, but we want to bring together all lost tsalagi. There are 3 bands. Eastern central and western. Central is very white in appearance but they do share our blood. Many other nations do not recognize them because of racist tendencies. Racism in any form, even if its uninformed ignorance is not allowed. We teach to erase this hatred. Many tsalagi are mixed because we had an easier time integrating into English culture. But we never forgot our ways. Let me tell you about the great warrior crazy horse. He was an integrater of native cultures. He did not like woodland tribes. When many were forced west they dropped their ways as per his word and became souix. I am 75%. I am tsalagi crow blackfoot and Irish. You need to learn from the late elder red crow. Are you aniynweah? What nation do you represent?

        January 17, 2014 at 6:51 am |
      • keetoowah tsalagi

        Look up our anikituhwa warriors. See the diversity? Many blessings! Also notice we dont fit the plains tribes stereotypes? Much love kindness and respect.

        January 17, 2014 at 7:07 am |
  22. palintwit

    "Trail of Tears"? How about the "Trail of Morons" (tea party patriots).

    January 16, 2014 at 11:54 am |
  23. lindaluttrell

    Sad omission...Cherokees were not the only ones who were forced marched in the Trail of Tears. There ARE four other nations that comprise the "Five Civilized Tribes." Otherwise, interesting article.

    January 16, 2014 at 10:00 am |
    • Janet

      So what are the other civilized tribes doing to preserve heirloom foodways?

      January 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
  24. Transcender

    I love this idea. The Cherokee are a strong nation and I'm glad that they are creating a circle of life with their members. Beautiful story regarding the eagle on the seeds. I am also glad it is not open to the public. I wish that the public were taught the true story of The Trail of Tears.

    January 16, 2014 at 9:24 am |
    • keetoowah tsalagi

      You can learn. Learn it from the first nations. No one is taught truth in schools in any fashion. Did you know irish were slaves in this nation? Not indentured servants. Slaves. Truth is never found in the "winner". Look at the history of Irish slaves in Montserrat in the Caribbean. The decendants of african slaves celebrate their irish brothers that labored with them. Natives were also slaves and some of our ancestors owned slaves. Wounded knee is also a prime example. Why does america still recognize the 20 medal of honors given to the soldiers of that massacre?

      January 16, 2014 at 10:48 am |
      • keetoowah tsalagi

        His' story is very distorted. I want to tell you about a couple heros of mine of other nations. Ira hayes was a pima native and is in the famous picture of the men at iwo that hoisted the flag. He is in the very back. That flag was actually the second flag that was hoisted. The men in that picture did not participate in that historic battle. When they came home they were paraded as heros. This tore ira apart. He succomed to alcohol because of this and died an alcoholic. It damaged his spirit. Rip. Another great man was a lakota code talker named Clarence wolf guts. He like all of us, watched the twin towers fall. In tears Clarence begged his son to call the department of defense so he could volunteer his code talking language skills to catch osama bin laden. Rip. This is what we call walking the good red road. Clarence and ira loved this nation. Even if its past is covered in blood. They forgave the horrors of the past. As Christ asks from all of us. Yes I am a Christian. Because I believe Jesus said "come follow me, but not once did he say, change who you are". Blessings to all! A'ho! In tsalagi dialect we call Lord Jesus, galuloh tsisa.

        January 16, 2014 at 11:25 am |
        • keetoowah tsalagi

          And in saying im Christian, I also want to educate you on boarding schools and praying towns. Our ancestors were forced into these schools to be reformed as christians. We were treated like animals by catholics. But im smart enough to make a distinction between God and christians that do not act Godly. I am also smart enough to make a distinction between the english spanish irish and vikings. The english and spanish ravaged our people. Not "whites". I can not bring myself to blame polish gypsies, Armenian christians, irish slaves etc for the destruction of my people. I put sole blame on the crown of england and spain.

          January 16, 2014 at 11:32 am |
        • keetoowah tsalagi

          Sorry if im using this comment board as an oppertunity to teach. I also blame andrew Jackson. He was a horrible man. Our elders call him the knife. And id like to bring to light some truth about abraham lincoln. He was not the hero you have been told about. He was responsible for the largest mass hanging in united states his' story. 38 natives hung by his order. He also wanted all africans deported post proclimation because he said his people and africans could not live peacefully in society. George washington was also infamous to us because he would burn our fields down to starve us to death. Sometimes the truth can be painful. But heres some good her'story. If it wasnt for our people telling the settlers to "get behind the trees and shoot" you would never have beaten the british. We also taught you democracy because the settlers wanted an american monarchy. We taught you how to survive and live off the land. Our past is intertwined in so many ways. And not all of it is bad. Anyway I hope I was able to teach others. Or at least perk their interests into really discovering the past. Many blessings to all of you!!

          January 16, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • keetoowah tsalagi

          I also made a comment about boarding schools and praying towns but for some reason it is saying awaiting moderation. If it does not go through I encourage both americans and non americans alike to look up these horrible things. With that said I am smart enough to make a clear distinction between God and christians that do not act Godly. Blessings!

          January 16, 2014 at 11:59 am |
      • Writing4Rvltn

        Thanks for the info :) Very interesting.

        January 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
      • Transcender

        Yes, keetoowah, I have learned the true story. I taught the true story to my children, and soon my grandchildren. I took my children to the Eastern reservation so they could attend the museums there which were awesome and heartbreaking at the same time. But not as heartbreaking as the play, "Unto These Hills", which tells the true story of The Trail of Tears. No matter how many times I've seen it, one cannot walk away with dry eyes. Thank You for helping to educate others. And YES, Andrew Jackson was a monster. I taught that to my children, also.

        January 16, 2014 at 8:13 pm |
        • Genia

          I didn't know anything about the Trail of Tears until a nuse that I worked with informed me. She was Indian-what I am not sure, but you could tell she was of some and very proud of her ancestors. My Grandmother was Cherokee I believe, so I became interested and was shocked and felt tears of my own by the way and why this happened.There is less and less being taught of actual history in our schools.There is alot of violence now in our schools and children are pressured to breaking points and we wonder why they crack.Parents are busier and cannot give the children the personal time they need.I am so sorry for the way the Indians have been treated as well as the slaves of yesterday and some even today that have to put up with ignorant racists. Maybe God will even the score someday. Some tribes have bought into the casinos and have been doing quite well-so maybe it will. I can't imagine music without soul music beginnings or tv without Bill Cosby. Now we have a Black president-so who knows-maybe a Native Indian President someday. As for the ones that hung blacks and slaughtered many indians-God will take care of that.

          January 18, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
  25. Jessica

    We love our Indians and the POW-WOW! They make the land the way it is.

    January 16, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  26. sumday

    good article. Just wish the public could buy the seeds as well. I hate GMO's.

    January 16, 2014 at 8:01 am |
    • little timmie

      Grecian Made Oreos?

      January 16, 2014 at 8:10 am |
    • Jon

      You can easily buy heirloom seeds, as well as non-GMO's. In fact it is much easier to buy non-GMO seeds.

      January 16, 2014 at 10:48 am |
    • margret

      SeedSaver's Exchange has a huge selection of non GMO seeds. is the site.

      January 16, 2014 at 11:22 am |
    • Belvarie Varnado

      Google Heirloom seeds. You can buy them. They aren't the Cherokee seeds but are natural.

      January 16, 2014 at 11:36 am |
    • Cathy Johnson

      I purchased the Cherokee White Eagle corn seeds from this company last year, because I wanted to grow an authentic Three (or Four) Sisters garden. It was a humbling experience, that totally changed my perspective on gardening for year round eating. It also led me to read Cherokee writings and some of the unsavory history in America's past. The corn, btw, is absolutely delicious eaten early.

      January 18, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
  27. Richard

    Yes, lets go back to the days of 4" corn cobs and yields 1/20th of what an acre yields today. That will cull the .population really fast

    January 16, 2014 at 7:07 am |
    • keetoowah tsalagi

      Squash beans and maize are the three sisters and very important to us. I have no issues with some of the genetically modified corn that grows faster. But let us keep to our old ways. We arent pushing it on anyone. It makes us who we are. It keeps us grounded. But we are modern contemporary people.

      January 16, 2014 at 7:10 am |
      • salvage210

        Thanks for sharing that, Keetoowah.

        January 16, 2014 at 7:21 am |
    • SnakePlissken

      Is that the size of stuff before or after farmlands were over utilized and under fertilized with appropriate natural means?

      In other words, before over-farming by the white-man, the crops were far more productive than today. Bison were larger, elk, moose, lobsters, fish – all larger than today's variations. Even the trees were larger. You hideous pukes of European descent, warped and twisted by the dimented DNA from the Asians who invaded and corrupted Europe, can never seem to learn or accept the truth of America prior to your conquest and destruction of America.

      January 16, 2014 at 11:58 am |
      • keetoowah tsalagi

        Hmm snake your racism is showing aniyunweah. Why dont you tell them what the Cheyenne thought of the crow? I also bring to light the two groups of people missing the enzyme to break down alcohol. Only asians and natives have this trait. Yes we have always been on turtle island. But we all came from two. We are all related. Red black yellow white.

        January 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
    • AntonZ

      "Richard – Yes, lets go back to the days of 4" corn cobs and yields 1/20th of what an acre yields today. That will cull the .population really fast
      January 16, 2014 at 7:07 am" – An intelligent person would realize that we can have both. This simple notion has obviously eluded your thought process.

      January 19, 2014 at 4:58 am |
  28. keetoowah tsalagi

    We are called tsalagi. Cherokee is an english word. The letter r does not exsist in our dialect. Just informing others. Blessings! Gvgeyui! (I love you)

    January 16, 2014 at 7:02 am |
    • keetoowah tsalagi

      Tsalagi Pronounced (saw law gee). Gvgeyui pronounced (goo gay you ee). O'siyo (hello or greetings) pronounced (oo sai yo). Blessings to all!!!

      January 16, 2014 at 7:08 am |
  29. keetoowah tsalagi

    Beautiful! Best cnn article ever! A'ho!

    January 16, 2014 at 7:00 am |
  30. Feele

    We can't return we can only look, Behind from where we came, And go round and round and round, In the circle game... (Joni Mitchell)

    January 16, 2014 at 6:33 am |
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