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Tending the Wild

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 555
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  • Book Info
    Tending the Wild
    Book Description:

    John Muir was an early proponent of a view we still hold today-that much of California was pristine, untouched wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. But as this groundbreaking book demonstrates, what Muir was really seeing when he admired the grand vistas of Yosemite and the gold and purple flowers carpeting the Central Valley were the fertile gardens of the Sierra Miwok and Valley Yokuts Indians, modified and made productive by centuries of harvesting, tilling, sowing, pruning, and burning. Marvelously detailed and beautifully written,Tending the Wildis an unparalleled examination of Native American knowledge and uses of California's natural resources that reshapes our understanding of native cultures and shows how we might begin to use their knowledge in our own conservation efforts. M. Kat Anderson presents a wealth of information on native land management practices gleaned in part from interviews and correspondence with Native Americans who recall what their grandparents told them about how and when areas were burned, which plants were eaten and which were used for basketry, and how plants were tended. The complex picture that emerges from this and other historical source material dispels the hunter-gatherer stereotype long perpetuated in anthropological and historical literature. We come to see California's indigenous people as active agents of environmental change and stewardship.Tending the Wild persuasively argues that this traditional ecological knowledge is essential if we are to successfully meet the challenge of living sustainably.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93310-1
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxvi)
  6. Note on Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The New World is in fact a very old world. The mountain forests, broad inland valleys, oak-studded hills, and deserts of the region now called California were thoroughly known, celebrated in story and song, named in great detail, and inhabited long before European explorers sailed along the west coast of North America for the first time. Every day of every year for millennia, the indigenous people of California interacted with the native plants and animals that surrounded them. They transformed roots, berries, shoots, bones, shells, and feathers into medicines, meals, bows, and baskets and achieved an intimacy with nature unmatched...


    • CHAPTER 1 Wildlife, Plants, and People
      (pp. 13-40)

      California is a land of superlatives. It has the highest mountain peaks, the largest, oldest, and tallest trees, the rivers of the greatest variety, and the most diverse Indian tribes found in the coterminous United States. California harbors the smallest bird on the continent north of Mexico, the calliope hummingbird(Stellula calliope),and the largest flying bird, the California condor(Gymnogyps californianus).From the summit of Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, one can face east to see the lowest point on the American continent, in Death Valley, and then turn around to gaze at the highest point of land...

    • CHAPTER 2 Gathering, Hunting, and Fishing
      (pp. 41-61)

      California Indians depended deeply and directly on the breadth of the land for their livelihood. Superb natural historians, their knowledge of the natural world was grounded in ancient tradition and encompassed what today we call ornithology, entomology, botany, zoology, ichthyology, ecology, and geology. Through sharp observation, diligent experimentation, and insights from the spirit world, they unlocked the hidden attributes of California’s flora and fauna. Evidence of indigenous people’s intimate knowledge of the natural world comes from many quarters: the extraordinary array of human uses they assigned to native plants, animals, fungi, algae, and lichens; the active management techniques they used...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Collision of Worlds
      (pp. 62-122)

      Tales of a mythical island abounding in gold loomed large in the imaginations of sixteenth-century Spaniards who read the novelLas sergas de Esplandián (The Exploits of Esplandian)by Garci Ordóñes de Montalvo. Montalvo’s fabled realm, ruled by Queen Calafia, was populated by black women of great strength whose arms, and the harnesses of the wild beasts on which they rode, were made of gold. Griffins killed and ate any man who set foot on the island. The name of this legendary place was California.¹

      Hernán Cortés and his followers, some of whom likely read this novel, may have been...


    • CHAPTER 4 Methods of Caring for the Land
      (pp. 125-154)

      Indigenous peoples have been pigeonholed by social scientists into one of two categories, “hunter-gatherer” or “agriculturist,” obscuring the ancient role of many indigenous peoples as wildland managers and limiting their use of and impacts on nature to the two extremes of human intervention. The image evoked by the termhunter-gathereris of a wanderer or nomad, plucking berries and pinching greens and living a hand-to-mouth existence;agriculturist,at the other extreme, refers to one who completely transforms wildland environments, saves and sows seed, and clears engulfing vegetation by means of fire and hand weeding. This dichotomous view of nature human...

    • CHAPTER 5 Landscapes of Stewardship
      (pp. 155-186)

      Had California been devoid of human habitation during the Holocene, the vegetation in many places—its structure, composition, extent, and distribution—would appear quite different today. Desert fan palms would not be growing in many, perhaps all, of the Sonoran Desert canyons where they now form green oases. In some areas where valley grasslands exist today, there would be forests, woodland, or chaparral. Many of the rain-fed montane meadows would have long since vanished, engulfed by montane forest. In some oak savannas there would be fewer enormous valley oaks, and the lower montane forests of the Sierra would boast fewer...

    • CHAPTER 6 Basketry: Cultivating Forbs, Sedges, Grasses, and Tules
      (pp. 187-208)

      Basketry captures the apotheosis of California Indian cultures. In the homes of a bustling Indian village, there were dozens of baskets of multifarious shapes that were put to hundreds of uses. They ranged in size from tiny one-inch gift baskets to five-foot salmon storage vessels. Baskets stored bulbs, knocked seeds from their pods, hauled dirt, ladled acorn mush, snared woodpeckers, and carried grasshoppers. Cone-shaped burden baskets held oak firewood; fan-shaped baskets fanned embers into flames. Large boat baskets ferried humans across rivers. Open-twined baskets stored trash. Twined quivers carried arrows. Baskets caged birds and captured fish, and funerary urn baskets...

    • CHAPTER 7 From Arrows to Weirs: Cultivating Shrubs and Trees
      (pp. 209-239)

      In southwestern England in 1970 a six-thousand-year-old wooden walkway was uncovered by peat cutters clearing weeds from drainage ditches in the boggy flatlands. Well preserved, it consisted of thousands of pegs of hazel and ash. Archaeologists meticulously studied the pegs and at first were puzzled by their uniform characteristics: their lengths, ages, and diameters were similar, and they were all very straight and lacked the side branching typical of hazel and ash branches.¹ What the peat cutters had uncovered was more than just an old track. The peculiar architecture of the pegs revealed coppicing, an early form of woodland management...

    • CHAPTER 8 California’s Cornucopia: A Calculated Abundance
      (pp. 240-254)

      Aboriginal California was rich with wild produce. Buttercup seeds, manzanita berries, cactus pads, Indian rhubarb, wild onions, and hundreds of other plants nourished the native peoples. Millions of grains from native grasses became flour for Indian bread, and millions of plump tubers became raw or baked “potatoes” cooked in Indian earth ovens. If one could look inside a Chunut Yokuts tule house in 1700, one would see baskets of dried blackberries, mushrooms, and different kinds of seeds, as well as jackrabbits, elk, antelope, and fish hung on poles. “The house was full of things to eat,” said Yoimut, a Chunut...

    • CHAPTER 9 Plant Foods Aboveground: Seeds, Grains, Leaves, and Fruits
      (pp. 255-290)

      As discussed in the previous chapter, California Indians had remarkably diverse plant diets, each tribe typically using as food the seeds, fruits, corms, bulbs, rhizomes, stems, and leaves of several hundred plant species. The members of each tribe memorized every aspect of each food plant growing in their territory, including the plant’s growth habits, life cycle, habitat requirements, uses, storage particulars, and preparation and cooking methods.

      The seeds of wildflowers and pines, the grains of native grasses, and the dry fruits of oaks (acorns) were among the staples of most Indian diets. These seeds, grains, and dry fruits provided ample...

    • CHAPTER 10 Plant Foods Belowground: Bulbs, Corms, Rhizomes, Taproots, and Tubers
      (pp. 291-306)

      On the morning of March 28, 1772, Captain Pedro Fages and his men of the Spanish Cavalry, accompanied by Fray Juan Crespi, arrived at a northwestern Yokuts village and were graciously received with gifts—goose decoys, soaproot, and a curious, round food resembling a miniature baked potato. Crespi called it “cacomite.”¹ It tasted sweet and pleased the palate of the Spanish soldiers. This round, white vegetable was probably a kind of brodiaea, or grassnut. One hundred years later, early settlers observed Yokuts people gathering brodiaeas along the sand sloughs and rivers of the San Joaquin Valley. The plants were said...


    • CHAPTER 11 Contemporary California Indian Harvesting and Management Practices
      (pp. 309-333)

      Despite the history of genocide, dispossession, and assimilation described in Chapter 3, California is still home to approximately 150,000 people who trace their ancestry to the state’s original indigenous inhabitants.¹ Together they represent a rich diversity of cultural groups speaking a variety of indigenous languages, organized by different social structures, and practicing different religious customs and forms of land management.

      Since their world was taken over by Euro-American settlers, California Indian tribes have continued to endure major threats to their cultural survival. In the past century or so, economic and cultural pressures have caused many Indians to embrace modern Western...

    • CHAPTER 12 Restoring Landscapes with Native Knowledge
      (pp. 334-357)

      In California and elsewhere in North America restorationists often assume that the ecosystems they are trying to restore are completely “natural”—that their structures and functions were formerly self-sustaining, maintained through natural processes, and that the key to restoring them is returning them to their natural condition. For example, the ecologist Donald Harker and his colleagues write about the importance of “naturalness,” which they define as “the degree to which the present community of plants and animals resembles the community that existed before human intervention.” Similarly, ecological restoration has been defined as “the process by which an area is returned...

  11. CODA: Indigenous Wisdom in the Modern World
    (pp. 358-364)

    The wordtending,as in the titleTending the Wild,is meant to encapsulate the essence of the relationship that the indigenous people of California had with the natural world in pre-Columbian times. It also suggests the timeless wisdom inherent in this relationship, wisdom that we sorely need today.Tendmeans “to have the care of; watch over; look after.” Thus the word connotes a relationship of stewardship, involvement, and caring very different from the dualistic, exploit-it-or-leave-it-alone relationship with nature characteristic of Western society. The role of nature’s steward was (and still is) one shared by many indigenous peoples. Calvin...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 365-410)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 411-470)
  14. Index
    (pp. 471-526)