A nonprofit organization is providing job training and supplies to Thlopthlocco Tribal Town members interested in learning the trade of butterfly farming. Natives Raising Natives and its partner, the Euchee Butterfly Farm, are located in Leonard, Okla., and raise butterflies used in zoos and exhibits as well as at butterfly releases and special events. Funded by a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Natives Raising Natives’ mission is to promote financial independence.

The project was inspired by similar programs in Costa Rica and other tropical countries offering a sustainable income to indigenous peoples and an alternative to logging endangered forests, says Jane Breckinridge, program executive director.

“Commercial butterfly farming is an exploding industry, with over $64 million in annual sales to butterfly exhibits at zoos and institutions, releases at weddings and funerals and educational caterpillar kits for schools,” Breckinridge says.

The high demand for butterflies can help the state.

“Oklahoma faces high unemployment rates in rural areas where jobs are scarce, Breckinridge says, “and the unemployment rate for Native Americans is significantly higher than average.”

More than 2,000 butterfly and moth species are native to Oklahoma. Of those, only a handful is suitable to raise in captivity. Butterfly habitats must include specific plants that the insect will need throughout its life cycle. The program will provide equipment necessary for individuals to become commercial butterfly farmers as well as the essential training and business skills.

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