Message #432: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: Sonoran Desert as Bountiful/Putting History and Culture Back into Nature Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 20:29:45 -0700 Encoding: MIME-Version: 1.0 The latest on-line edition of Sierra: The Magazine of the Sierra Club contains articles about Native Americans. A lot of facts and figures are presented, some without attribution. The second attachment says in part: "... Some Western intellectuals, in reaction to the romanticization of indigenous peoples, have emphasized the alleged destructive impacts of Paleolithic hunters, such as the megafauna extinctions of the last Ice Age, while refusing to accept Native peoples as competent conservationists and land stewards. Unheard in the ruckus are Native peoples themselves. Few Western intellectuals have lived or worked in traditional, as opposed to assimilated, Indian communities. Few resource managers or environmentalists have read the wealth of documentation in ethnohistory and ethnography of indigenous land stewardship and conservation available in libraries and archives (most still residing in raw field notes) or contained within the oral tradition still passed from generation to generation by elders in their own languages. As long as Native peoples are not heard, non-Native audiences will continue to deal in caricatures. To begin to understand the Native perspective, it's important to consider some often-overlooked facts. For example: Anthropologists have grossly underestimated both prehistoric indigenous populations and the length of time this hemisphere has been occupied--promoting the myth of an empty continent, ready for settlement. Some indigenous cultures (Aztec, perhaps Mayan and Anasazi) may have made serious environmental mistakes. But what about the others?..." Many of you have e-mail but no graphical browser, so see two excerpts below. -- SASIG Ed. http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/199611/ndfood1.html FOOD FOR THOUGHT: That Old Time Nutrition by Jane Zastaury Few people think of the Sonoran Desert as bountiful. The sun of southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico, is unrelenting, and apart from the odd summer monsoon and an inch or two of rain in midwinter, water is scarce. Yet the Sonoran has supplied Native peoples with sustenance for thousands of years. Until the 1940s, the Tohono O'odham (formerly known as the Papago) and their cousins the Pima relied on foraged wild foods like mesquite pods, cactus fruit, and chiles for the bulk of their diet, with the rest coming from cultivated indigenous crops like corn, beans, and squash. Upon entering the American cash economy, however, the O'odham abandoned their agrarian heritage. Wild foods were replaced by processed junk, and the O'odham and Pima soon developed nutrition-related health problems--obesity, high blood pressure, and one of the highest rates of Type II diabetes in the world. In the early 1980s, the Tucson branch of the nutrition program Meals for Millions set out to help the O'odham supplement their diet with homegrown vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes. While politely accepting the donated vegetables, the O'odham began asking for the seeds of foods they remembered from childhood: yellow-fleshed watermelon, striped sunflowers, fast-ripening corn, the fiery chiles called chiltepines--varieties that had all but died out after commercial foods became available. The hunt for the heirloom varieties began. Word spread to other reservations in and around Arizona; seeds that had been lost in one area were found in another, and small pockets of cultivable wild plants, such as chiles, were rediscovered in hidden canyons and valleys. Native Seeds/SEARCH (Southwest Endangered Arid Lands Resources Clearinghouse) was born. Once large numbers of O'odham began to return to a traditional diet, the health benefits afforded by indigenous crops became clear. Take the prickly pear, a common cactus. Its tender young paddles (nopalitos) are cooked with onions and chiles, while its fruit (tuna) is made into a sugary candy. Long a staple of indigenous peoples in Mexico, it had been largely relegated to ornamental status in the desert Southwest. But the O'odham found that prickly pear, filled with vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber, is among the most healthful plants a diabetic can eat. Fiber, the plant's way of absorbing and conserving water, is what makes desert plants a good choice. High-fiber foods slow the digestion and absorption of sugars in the body, and thus help to regulate blood glucose levels. Plant-based diets also help reduce cholesterol, a concern for non-insulin-dependent diabetics, who are generally overweight and at high risk for coronary heart disease. Among the O'odham, a diet high in desert plants has been found to radically slow and sometimes even reverse Type II diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol. The fiber in some desert plants is found in the form of mucilage, a seed coating that becomes gelatinous when combined with liquid. Some mucilaginous seeds, such as chia, were traditionally used to make a refreshing drink, while plantago (also known as psyllium seed) provides the active ingredient in the fiber supplement Metamucil. Tepary beans, another desert food, are higher in protein than soybeans. And mesquite meal is sweet and nutritious; when used in baking, it partially substitutes for wheat flour, while also reducing the amount of sugar needed. Native Seeds/SEARCH is now extending to other indigenous communities along the U.S./Mexico border. Its efforts go beyond demonstrating the health benefits of native foods: it also hopes to show that a return to the foods of the ancestors can be a source of self-sufficiency and pride. Jane Zastaury is non-native to Tucson, where she enjoys growing native plants almost as much as eating them. Native desert seed packets are available from Native Seeds/SEARCH free to Native Americans and, for a nominal cost, to other interested gardeners. Flours, teas, herbs, and spices are also available. Send $1 for a catalog to Native Seeds/SEARCH at 2509 N. Campbell Ave., #325, Tucson, AZ 85719. http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/199611/ndmart1.html First People, Firsthand Knowledge by Dennis Martinez Native people have taken care of the natural landscape for thousands of years. If we lose their wisdom, we lose the land as well. White images of Indians have always changed with the social and intellectual climate. Modern environmentalists have drawn inspiration from the noble savage who "walked lightly on the land," failing to appreciate the high degree of Indian influence on what they see as a "pristine" environment. Some Western intellectuals, in reaction to the romanticization of indigenous peoples, have emphasized the alleged destructive impacts of Paleolithic hunters, such as the megafauna extinctions of the last Ice Age, while refusing to accept Native peoples as competent conservationists and land stewards. Unheard in the ruckus are Native peoples themselves. Few Western intellectuals have lived or worked in traditional, as opposed to assimilated, Indian communities. Few resource managers or environmentalists have read the wealth of documentation in ethnohistory and ethnography of indigenous land stewardship and conservation available in libraries and archives (most still residing in raw field notes) or contained within the oral tradition still passed from generation to generation by elders in their own languages. As long as Native peoples are not heard, non-Native audiences will continue to deal in caricatures. To begin to understand the Native perspective, it's important to consider some often- overlooked facts. For example: Anthropologists have grossly underestimated both prehistoric indigenous populations and the length of time this hemisphere has been occupied--promoting the myth of an empty continent, ready for settlement. Some indigenous cultures (Aztec, perhaps Mayan and Anasazi) may have made serious environmental mistakes. But what about the others? Where mistakes were made (and generations punished) lessons were learned for the future. Indigenous peoples differ tremendously in cultural practices and cosmology, yet their conservation ethics (stewardship practices, hunting and gathering limits, taboos, ceremonies of world renewal, thanksgivings, and stories) are nearly universal in their understanding of a sustainable land/culture relationship. What follows is adapted from a talk I gave at the Sixth Annual Bioneers Conference, held in San Francisco in 1994, where I discussed the role of Native Americans in shaping the biodiversity of North America. --Dennis Martinez. The elders say that if you don't take care of the plants and talk to them and relate to them, they get lonely and go away. To the sophisticated and cynical modern mind that seems like a quaint belief, yet there is a profound truth in it. If you take care of the plants and animals, they will come back again next year to give you food or medicine or shelter or clothing. It's a very simple truth, yet it has been overlooked by most of the environmental movement. It worked for tens of thousands of years and still works in many remote Indian communities scattered throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico, in Latin America, and among indigenous peoples globally. If you did something bad to the plants and animals, their spirits would return to the spirit villages and report what you did. That's how Indian children were instructed. This kind of restraint and respect was built into every Indian worldview--and it still exists. Indigenous ethics had spiritual teeth, and entailed a high degree of personal responsibility for the state of the environment. To disregard these ethics was to starve or to face personal calamity or genetic extinction. Yet this tradition of caregiving is fading away, because indigenous peoples were separated from their land base. The old-time traditionals are beginning to lose out to nearly assimilated "progressives" willing to sell their children's birthright for short-term profit. But land health is a prerequisite for cultural survival, and cultural survival is a prerequisite for land health. Support traditional people and you support conservation. Support reserved treaty rights and co-management on public lands ceded by treaty and you will support the environment. By every early pioneer account, biodiversity in this hemisphere was so incredible as to be likened to the Garden of Eden. Yet when I talk like this, red flags go up among academics. They say I'm romanticizing the past, looking backward when I should be looking forward. But systems analysis and chaos theory today show us what quantum mechanics showed us back in the 1920s: that the ability of human beings to predict trends in matter or living organisms is severely limited. That is a humbling thought. And we need humbling thoughts. We are infatuated with our intellectual abilities and capacities to predict and analyze, when what we need is to learn to listen and to observe over time in one place, something indigenous peoples--indeed the ancestors of everyone here--once did. And they survived a long time. Survivability is the acid test of cultural adaptability. That part of the indigenous past that is still retrievable is a better guide for the future than limited computer modeling (although computers are a useful tool up to a point). Before computers, good scientists were good observers, like the old-time general naturalist who spent a lifetime in the forest in one place and saw what nature was actually like. Book learning was not imposed on the raw flux of natural complexity. Today, transects, plots, and computer simulation have taken the place of the blank mind waiting patiently to be slowly filled with firsthand knowledge. There is no substitute for experience in a place and there is no substitute for the collective experience of Native peoples over vast stretches of time. Listening and learning is what made Native Americans into wise environmental managers. Yet this wisdom is rarely recognized. How many people know that Indian women in the San Francisco Bay Area were prescription-fire experts? How many people know that the forest structure, function, composition, and quality of habitat of areas like Yosemite were at least partly determined through indigenous selective harvesting and fire, through working with and assisting natural processes? When settlers came over the Oregon Trail, they thought that Indians did nothing to enhance the productive capabilities of the land. This was their primary justification for genocide. Because Indians roamed wide spaces, the newcomers automatically assumed that Indian people were maybe noble, but certainly didn't count much in the landscape. Today, nothing has changed. Indians are given token appreciation by people interested in their ceremonies and their ways, and by environmental groups desiring a charismatic morning prayer, but there is no real support for their cultural survival. And little credence is given to the impact that the Indian people have had on the very structure and composition of the landscape. The heritage of Indian people is the heritage of everyone. There are 300 million indigenous peoples in the world. They are land-based and have their traditional ways fairly intact, and they hold the collective heritage of every human on Earth. We're talking about perhaps 120,000 years of human coevolution with the natural world. If you are looking for models of this relation of Indians to the landscape, and its relevance to the health of the environment, they're not too far away. Recently I was at Walpole Island Reserve, which is Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) in southern Ontario on Lake St. Claire. They have 5,500 acres of tallgrass prairie and oak savannah that they have never stopped burning. Every one of Ontario's 65 endangered plants is there in quantity. In less than nine square miles you have acres of rare blazing star and big bluestem eight, nine, ten feet high. Botanists can't believe the diversity there, all because of burning. Although little reported in the media, there are thousands of similar examples of sustainable land practices throughout the globe. We can't turn the clock back and restore all the details of the ecosystems we've lost. What restorationists do is look at recovering the key features of ecosystem structure, composition, and function. A historical reference ecosystem can be modified as changed conditions require by resorting to Western ecological sciences. But the plants that grew up with fire and selective harvesting have genetic memories that are far wiser than those of any intellectual. And they are activated when they approach the right intensity, seasonality, duration, and return-interval of the fires that were set by Indian women in the fall or the spring. That is why restorationists ought to begin with the historical reference ecosystem--the indigenous managed landscape--and go as far as they can go. Where I live in southwestern Oregon there is now almost no water in the creeks that once ran all year. We have a forest that burns repeatedly and catastrophically, which is not good for the soil. The same goes for slash burning following clearcutting. It has to be the right kind of fire--the fire that the Indian women set. This is what the plants understand in the coevolutionary process between those natural communities and fire. As the elders say, it's what will keep plants from going away. Native cultures don't separate themselves from these communities. We cannot protect the land unless we have the capacity, economically and spiritually, to be caregivers. That is fundamental. There is no Indian word for "wilderness" because there never was a wilderness. When I talk about "natural community," I mean our relatives, the plants and animals--the diversity of life, which includes us humans as well. The environmental movement has posed the question in typically Western terms, as either/or, dividing the world into natural and human: either we are biocentric or we're anthropocentric. I've coined the word kin-centric. We are all related, and if we take care of our relatives, they will take care of us. That's why native cultures have ceremonies to renew the world, because we use the world up. We take personal and collective responsibility for the earth's welfare. The Indian ancestor spirits are still here, which is the best proof we have that this land is still healthy enough to be restored. When those spirits go away, the spirit of the land will be dead. The modern mind is uneasy with talk of spirits. But the rendering of nature dead, without spirits, is why the modern world has lost respect. By putting history and culture back into nature, we become rooted in a real past. We link up spiritually with thousands of years of our own past. Euro-Americans are really very new to this hemisphere. If spiritual healing does not occur between the former longtime inhabitants and the new ones--and that includes a willingness to learn from Native peoples about ecology and land stewardship--the land and ancestor spirits will vomit us all from the land. Together we must forge a worldview that doesn't deny the past, but builds on it, forging a synthesis between the old and new, between Western science and traditional environmental knowledge. If we don't change our ways of agriculture the wild lands will go away. That is clear. And it's the same if we don't change the way we treat people in terms of economic and social justice. The campesinos, the workers, tribal people, the people affected by NAFTA in Chiapas--these are people of place that have local traditional knowledge, and they see no need to be part of the new world order. We need to work with local people. One of the things we're trying to do in Oregon is develop a Mexican and Indian cooperative so that they don't get squeezed out by large reforestation contractors. Every tax law and regulation in Oregon favors big multinational corporations and excludes local people as well as responsible stewardship. We need to rethink market economics so that every time we use the forest for timber and non-timber products we further conservation and restoration. Economics must follow ecology. When Indian women burned the land, not only did they have straight basketshoots, medicine, food and game, but the land benefited at the same time. Natives took care of the landscape, and it took care of them in return. But if the people came back in the flesh today who lived here 100 years ago, they would be totally lost. They would not know where they were, and the land would look trashy and uncared for, a wasteland. Yet their spirits are still here, and they are tired of waiting. Dennis Martinez, Chicano and O'odham, is an ecosystem restorationist, contract seed collector, vegetation surveyor and the founder of the Indigenous Peoples' Restoration Network (IPRN). Contact the IPRN at 785 Barton Rd., Glendale, OR 97442; (541) 832-2273.