Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community

Brenda J. Child
Amazon book (Link)

Over the holidays, I've been rereading this superb book. 

This from the chapter on Women of the Great Lakes and Mississippi:

"Historically, Ojibwe gardens developed in microclimates where water along the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River worked to prevent early frost.  These sites comprised a fertile belt of islands where corn had been planted for generations beyond memory.  Though nineteenth-century rhetoric downplayed the prevalence of indigenous agriculture in an attempt to bring Indians into line with Western ideas about yeoman farming, in fact, it was Ojibwe farmers who sold seed potatoes to the new European settlers arriving in Anishinaabewaki.  This was at a time when Canadian officials remarked on "magnificent" Objibwe fields of potatoes and corn.  The Ojibwe and other Anishinaabeg in the Great Lakes region may have farmed even more during the years of the fur trade, because their surplus could be used in the market as women sold and exchanged food and supplies to fur traders and lumbermen.

"Microhabitats produced small fruits that were a priority to Ojibwe women.  Gathering strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, low- and high-bush cranberries, and other ground vegetation was another significant summer economic activity essential to year-round nutrition and survival, since these foods could be easily dried and stored.  As important as berries were to Ojibwe subsistence, stories associated with certain plants always gave priority to their life-giving and spiritual essence over their nourishment.  Berry season was such an essential and pleasant time for Ojibwe families and communities that summer months were named after the berries that ripen within those days.  The heart berry, ode'imin, or strawberry was first to mature, and many Ojibwe identified June as the heart berry moon for its shape.  Depending on the area of the Great Lakes region, July or August was considered miinikegiziis, the blueberry moon.  Surplus fruits were increasingly a source of income, because they could be sold or bartered to traders, lumbermen, and settlers who arrived in Anishinaabewaaki.

"One early lumberman in central Minnesota was impressed by the sheer extent of wild rice-related labor taking place as he passed through six miles of lake where women had bound the crop before harvesting, forcing him to take his canoe ashore.  Prior to harvest, women went out to the rice lakes in small canoes and tied the stalks into sheaves with strips of basswood fiber, marking their territory, protecting the crop from high winds and birds, and creating paths for canoes.  Indigenous people have harvested wild rice for a thousand years or more in the Great Lakes region, where it grows naturally in gentle, mineral-rich lakes and river headwaters.  Ojibwe people called wild rice manoomin, "the good seed that grows in water," and the seasonal grain was sacred food as well as a dietary staple.  The work of harvest began early in the spring with the selection of the Oshkaabewisag, community ricing committees whose members carefully observed water levels and the weather for signs that the wild rice was ripening.  These men and women signaled the beginning of the fall harvest.

"The wild rice harvest was the most visible expression of women's autonomy in Ojibwe society.  Binding rice was an important economic activity for female workers, who within their communities expressed prior claims to rice and a legal right to use wild rice beds in rivers and lakes through this practice.  Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy, as in European legal traditions.  Therefore, when early travelers and settlers observed indigenous women working, it would have involved a paradigm shift for them to appreciate that for the Ojibwe, water was a gendered space where women held property rights.  Perhaps Ojibwe women's ceremonial responsibility for water derives from these related legal traditions and economic practices.  Men held a ceremonial responsibility for fire.  Men traveled with their wives and female relatives to set up seasonal rice camps near the water, but they later departed to take part in the complementary occupation of hunting waterfowl or fishing."

Ojibwe women harvesting wild rice, 1853 (Link)

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Starwalker, Buffy Sainte-Marie
I've loved Buffy Sainte-Marie, and all that she stands for, since I was a child.  I especially love her sustained vibrato and the drums in this song.  In addition to being a gifted singer, Buffy also has advocated continuously since the early 1960s to raise awareness of Native American identity and is the author of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, a project to help teach young people about Native Americans.  Over the years, I've followed with interest various initiatives to teach the history of Native Americans in schools.  While my own school education on the topic [in Canada] wasn't stellar, we did study books such as I Heard the Owl Call my Name and Paddle to the Sea.  I had assumed, given all of the anthropological and archaeological work that has recently focused on indigenous Americans, that the curriculum would have improved on this topic.
It then comes as a surprise to me as I observe what is being taught in elementary school, that today in California, there still seems to be very little taught about Native Americans.  I was listening to a San Francisco (California) school board meeting a few weeks ago.  A group of Native American parents came to present to the Board the fact that their children and others are still taught that Columbus was the first discoverer of the Americas.  They are concerned that other children cannot identify what a Native American person might look like and that their children are often treated as being not native to the Americas.   Treaty rights are often not honored because teachers are not aware of the legal obligation to honor them.  The parents' group said they have been promised a library and meeting place in a San Francisco Unified School District Facility, but a workable space had not been provided.
If that weren't dismaying enough, I checked the elementary school California curriculum to find out when Native American history is supposed to be introduced.  Apparently, this should be in fourth grade, but it is bundled in with a requirement to teach the California Gold Rush and the building of the Union Pacific Railway.  Perhaps in this small slot, one might hope that they would teach the story of Ishi and the Yahi or the history of the Chumash.  More often than not, however, the text that is chosen is the Island of the Blue Dolphins or a rather warmed over history of the California Mission system and their relationship with Native Californians.  The Island of the Blue Dolphins has been discredited by native groups as having little to teach about Native American history.  It is not written by a native person, historian or anthropologist.  It also conveniently has as the perpetrator of a massacre, Aleuts.
Which brings me back to genetics.  I've been shuffling through some of the recently published papers which in various ways use Amerindian genetic samples.  I'm not, per se, opposed to using genetics to understand the prehistory of Native Americans.  Some of the findings are enthralling.  As I read yesterday that Native Americans have a slightly higher percentage of "Neanderthal" than Europeans, I have to admit that I found that interesting.  Given all the positive press regarding Neanderthals recently, I was even a little proud for them.
Even so, something seems off.  Everywhere I look, the research programs in which the prehistory of Native Americans are being studied do not include Native Americans.  Why would that be? 
A good friend of mine, who lives here in the Bay Area, is a Wampanoag, from Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Like most other Wampanoags, her family are not affluent.  Her reserve in Plymouth is rather isolated, economically speaking.  While she did well academically in high school, it was not an option for her to attend university.  I have also looked at student aid packages available for native persons.  Either I am not looking in the right place, or they do not exist.  My friend is in fact quite interested in the idea of using paleogenetics to study Native Americans, but it is difficult to see how she would ever finance her way to the required PhD.
I read these papers, many of them discussing Amerindian genetics.  There might be a potential upside to some of this research.  Perhaps there will be medical findings that are helpful.  But we already now know that Amerindians are a lot like Eurasians, so I doubt that there are any significant medical differences.  Possibly, some of these genetic studies might help native groups assert a land claim.  In Canada, there are still many unsettled land claims.  The recent cases in British Columbia where genetic data shows continuity of occupation might help to settle some land claims.
However, so many other potential pitfalls pop out at me.  How will this data be received by the general public?  Will this data be used to claim that Amerindians are simply primitive Eurasians?  Or might the recent genetic findings be interpreted more positively?
Some Native Americans still are not that interested in hearing about the fact that they came from Eurasia.  I stumbled on an Anishinaabe creation story website that specifically rejected this notion.  Other groups are clearly more open to the idea and have been actively pursuing relationships with indigenous people worldwide.  The recent collaboration among Pacific Rim native people comes to mind.  However, these collaborations are happening in and of themselves, simply by way of cultural commonalities such as canoing.  They probably don't need a genetic story of relationship to make them happen.
I don't see these genetics studies doing anything to resolve the fundamental challenges of economic isolation, lack of access to capital and education and substance addiction issues that are the core challenges for Native Americans.
Meanwhile, it looks like I will have to be the one, not the genetics community, nor the school system, to teach my daughter about Ishi.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weir on the River Koeye

The Northwest Coast Archaeology blog has a nice post, Weir on the River Koeye, on a Koeye River Society project of the Heiltsuk People (near Bella Bella, British Columbia, Canada).  This project focuses on the building of a traditional fishing weir.  There's a short documentary associated with the project and a number of beautiful photos.

The Heiltsuk People are also featured in the short documentary film The Last Wild Wolves of British Columbia's North Coast which aptly captures the connection between salmon, people, and wolves on the BC coast.

First Fish, First People

First Fish, First People:  Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim
Editors:  Judith Roche, Meg Hutchison

First published in 1998, this exceptional book documents the first person accounts, political struggles, art, technology, ecological awareness and culture of indigenous salmon fishing peoples of the North Pacific Rim, including the Ainu (Hokkaido, Japan), the Nyvkh (Sakhalin), Ulchi (Siberia), Salish (Coast and Interior British Columbia, Canada),and Makah (Columbia River, Washington and Oregon State, United States). For anyone interested in indigenous peoples or the environment of the Pacific Rim, this is a must read book.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Carl Zimmer
New York Times

“It’s extremely hard to make sense of,” Dr. Meyer said. “We still are a bit lost here.”

It's worth reading palaeontologist John Hawks' article regarding this announcement:

From the article:

"For more than a hundred years, scientists have been drawing straight lines connecting different fossils, to try to understand the human family tree. Those straight lines always diverged over time, leading toward increasing specialization and extinction of fossil groups. And for more than twenty-five years, geneticists have been assuming that the lines connecting the genealogy of mtDNA should be the same as the lines connecting the fossils. When those lines were different, geneticists have been happy to toss the fossils out of the human family tree, content to accept the story that the fossil people had become too specialized, too peripheral to be ancestors of today's people.

"But the last five years have made clear that both groups -- the fossil scientists drawing straight lines of diverging fossil populations, and the geneticists drawing straight lines of diverging -- were wrong."

Reading further:

"Maybe the Denisovans were west Asian Neandertals. It does seem like known genetics of Neandertals may represent something like an earlier iteration of the origin of modern humans -- more African than earlier hominins like the Sima sample, less influenced by Eurasian mixture than the Denisova genome, only a subset of the diversity of surrounding contemporaries. But we have no idea what the Neandertals of the Levant or southwest Asia may have been like genetically -- maybe they were more like Denisovans. This is all basically speculation, which indicates how little we still understand about the dynamics of these populations."

"They were complicated. Their relationships cannot be described by drawing straight lines between fossil samples. There were multiple lines of influence among them, small degrees of mixture and large-scale migrations. Europe was far from a slowly evolving population "accreting" Neandertal features over time. The Neandertals we know did not lumber into their doom; they expanded rapidly, multiple times, from non-European origins. They were as dynamic as the Middle Stone Age Africans who would later mix with them and expand across the world."

Good, John.

Don't forget the butterflies!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Megafauna Extinctions in Japan

The nature of megafaunal extinctions during the MIS 3–2 transition in Japan

Christopher J. Norton, Youichi Kondo, Akira Ono, Yingqi Zhang, Mark C. Diab
Quaternary International 211 (2010) 113–122
The nature of late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions has been the subject of intense debate since the 960s. Traditionally, scientists cite either climatic changes or human predation as the primary reason for worldwide megafaunal extinctions. In many island cases (e.g., Madagascar, New Zealand), scientists have had a tendency to lean towards humans as being the direct or indirect dominant cause for the relatively quick extirpation of indigenous megafaunas. This study evaluates the record for megafaunal (e.g.,Palaeoloxodon, Mammuthus, Sinomegaceros) extinctions in the Japanese islands and draw the tentative conclusion that: (1) humans directly and/or indirectly influenced the extinction of some large herbivores;and (2) the megafaunal extinctions likely began earlier than originally proposed; during the marine isotope stage (‘‘MIS’’) 3–2 transition (w30–20 ka) rather than during the MIS 2–1 (w15–10 ka) shift that roughly coincides with the advent of the Jomon period in Japan. However, we temper our findings due to the current paucity of sites in Japan that have associated archaeology and vertebrate paleontological materials that date to the MIS 3–2 transition.


Timing of megafaunal extinction in the Late Pleistocene on the Japanese Archipelago

Akira Iwase, Jun Hashizume, Masami Izuho, Keiichi Takahashi, Hiroyuki Sato
Quaternary International 255 (2012)

In the late Late Pleistocene (lLP), Japanese terrestrial large mammals consisted of two main groups; the Palaeoloxodon-Sinomegaceroides complex and the mammoth fauna. The former inhabited temperate forests and the latter were adapted to patches of taiga and grassland in cold environments. Among the two groups, almost all large mammals became extinct in the Late Quaternary. The lLP extinction is one of the most interesting topics currently debated in Japan.
    This paper evaluates previously reported radiocarbon dates of mammal fossils to determine the timing of lLP megafaunal extinctions on the Japanese Archipelago. Unreliable specimens which were dated by conventional 14C decay counting, samples obtained from poorly preserved fossils, samples inconsistent with geological context, and samples dated by combining bone fragments of several species and whose exact provenances are unknown are rejected. The timing of extinctions was compared with the vegetational changes. As a result, the present paper indicates that the extinction of large mammals in the Palaeoloxodon-Sinomegaceroides complex roughly coincided with the onset of the last glacial maximum (LGM: from ca. 25,000 BP to 16,000 BP) and subsequent domination by subarctic conifers. In contrast, the mammoth fauna survived the LGM and became extinct or migrated northward when the climate started to ameliorate. The lLP extinction on the Japanese Islands occurred in two pulses. These results imply that the main causes of lLP extinction on the Japanese Archipelago were changes of the ecosystem driven by climatic changes rather than “overkill” by human hunters.