Keeping It Living
Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Washington Press
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1 / Introduction: Reassessing Indigenous Resource Management, Reassessing the History of an Idea
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From the earliest anthropological research on the Northwest Coast of North America to the present day, there has been little debate as to whether the peoples of this region cultivated plants. Most scholars have accepted that they did not. In fact, Northwest Coast peoples’ apparent lack of cultivation and their large, permanent villages of socially stratified foragers provided the anthropological literature with one of its most prominent anomalies. As Alfred Kroeber (1962: 61)...
Part I. Concepts
2 / Low-Level Food Production and the Northwest Coast
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The indigenous societies of the Northwest Coast of North America have drawn the attention of scholars for well over a hundred years. Their remarkable art, rich mythology, complex kinship systems, elaborate Potlatch ceremonies, and salmon-centered economies have all been topics of exhaustive research and writing back...
3 / Intensification of Food Production on the Northwest Coast and Elsewhere
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The techniques of plant food production described in the chapters that follow are very likely the result of an evolutionary process known as intensification, or, in other words, producing more food. The causes and possible effects of increasing food production are central research question to many disciplines, Northwest Coast anthropology and archaeology among them. This chapter examines...
4 / Solving the Perennial Paradox: Ethnobotanical Evidence for Plant Resource Management on the Northwest Coast
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The indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast are traditionally viewed as being one of the original a›uent societies (Sahlins 1968)—hunter-gatherers, who, by exploiting the abundant “natural” resources of the Pacific Northwest, attained a high level of social complexity. Paradoxically, this complexity, it is often said, was achieved in the absence of plant food production and domestication. Consequently...
5 / “A Fine Line Between Two Nations”: Ownership Patterns for Plant Resources among Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples
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Recently, we were discussing concepts of land ownership with Gabe Bartleman, a Saanich (Wsánech) Elder. In our conversation, we commented that the Saanich people once must have “owned” all the land on the Saanich Peninsula, which lies around and north of the present city of Victoria. He corrected us, saying: “No, we didn’t own the land; we just...
Part II. Case Studies
6 / Coast Salish Resource Management: Incipient Agriculture?
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A half century or more ago, in a part of the Northwest Coast split by the International Boundary, older Coast Salish people told ethnographers that their forebears owned and tended beds of edible native “roots,” harvesting them in ways that ensured their reproduction and taking measures to increase the yield. In 1952, on the southern shore of Vancouver Island west of Victoria, Mary and Agnes George of the Sooke Band described to me how the Sooke people had harvested camas (Camassia spp.) (Figures 6.1 and 6.2)....
7 / The Intensification of Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia) by the Chinookan People of the Lower Columbia River
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In the Lower Columbia River region of the Northwest Coast, wapato (Sagittaria latifolia Willd.; Alismataceae), a tuberous plant of aquatic and semiaquatic habitats, formerly grew prolifically in immense, homogeneous “fields,” commonly hundreds of acres in extent (Figures 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3). This plant is still widespread in some localities. The tubers were available to local Chinookan indigenous peoples in much greater quantities than they required, even though...
8 / Documenting Precontact Plant Management on the Northwest Coast: An Example of Prescribed Burning in the Central and Upper Fraser Valley, British Columbia
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Ethnographic sources document the importance of prescribed burning practices among hunter-gatherers worldwide (e.g., Mills 1986; Pyne 1993). On the Northwest Coast, scattered references indicate that prescribed burning was widespread at the time of European contact and in the early historic era (e.g., Boyd 1986; Gottesfeld 1994a; Norton 1979b; Turner 1999; White 1992; Turner and Peacock, this volume). Controlled...
9 / Cultivating in the Northwest: Early Accounts of Tsimshian Horticulture
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The literature on Northwest Coast peoples prior to European contact provides the general impression that these people were mariners, not oriented to the land. Of course this is not true. The land was a well-utilized resource, full of game to hunt, plants to gather, and many other resources, all carefully managed by titled property holders, the people called “chiefs” in English. This chapter discusses...
10 / Tlingit Horticulture: An Indigenous or Introduced Development?
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Due to its geographic position at the extreme northernmost end of the Northwest Coast, Tlingit territory has the lowest diversity of terrestrial plant resources of any subregion of the culture area. While ethnographers have listed culturally important plants and recorded some gathering methods, the economic and dietary importance of plants in Tlingit subsistence has been neglected. As far as I know...
11 / Tending the Garden, Making the Soil: Northwest Coast Estuarine Gardens as Engineered Environments
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Late in life, Franz Boas labored to compile the geographical data he had accumulated during his lifetime’s study of the Kwakwaka’wakw, or “Kwakiutl” peoples of coastal British Columbia. In the resulting volume, amidst the descriptions of village sites and places of religious significance, among the maps of berry-harvesting sites and hunting territories, Boas provided maps and descriptions of elaborate gardens that the Kwakaka'wakw people had once constructed near their...
Part III. Conclusions
12 / Conclusions
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At the beginning of the twenty-first century, much is still unknown about past indigenous Northwest Coast plant-management practices, and must be inferred from partial evidence. Yet despite the relative scarcity of information regarding plant use in this part of the world, it is obvious that plants were a substantial, integral part of Northwest...
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Publication Year: 2005