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Prologue %• W h e n one of my great grandfathers swept into Kansas with the white tide on May 30, 1854, the first day he and the others could legally do so, the day the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed by Franklin Pierce, our nation had fewer than 30 million people. Had national policy at that time been directed toward urging all Americans to become "native" to this place, the nature of our relationship to the land today would be very different from what it is. Today, too many people and the products of the technology explosion, interacting with our desires and our perceived (as well as bona fide) needs, dictate the terms of that relationship. It was always changing. By the time one of my grandfathers (the above-mentioned great grandfather's son-in-law) made it to Kansas from the Shenandoah in 1877, the standard we might have employed for an 1854 "nativeness" was already rapidly disappearing. The great herd of bison was nearly finished off. The Santa Fe Trail, at age fifty-six, as an official highway of commerce, would soon become totally irrelevant. And by the time that grandfather died in 1925, 45 million acres of pristine prairie had been broken by tractors and 2 Becoming Native to This Place horses and planted to wheat. I was born eleven years later, at the height of the Dust Bowl era, which was a consequence of that Great Plowing. It was an era in which the heart of our continent sent its finest soil particles far overhead to Washington and even to ships at sea. It has never been our national goal to become native to this place. It has never seemed necessary even to begin such a journey. And now, almost too late, we perceive its necessity. Unfortunately, the nature of the nativeness toward which we must work has been not merely altered but severely compromised . Part of the reason is that we have eight and a half times as many people in our country as we did when my grandfather was born. Perhaps even worse, the forces that have given us our modern problems—the ozone hole and global warming, acid rain, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, soil erosion and loss of family farms, and so on—gain power by the decade. Destruction is occurring at an accelerating pace. It has all happened so fast (more than 80 percent of all the oil ever burned has been burned in my lifetime) and it is going to get worse— half of Mexico's population is under fifteen years of age, ready for a major explosion. The world is slated to add one billion people in the 1990s alone. More people will be added in ten years than the total population of the earth at the time of Columbus. This book is dedicated to the idea that the majority of solutions to both global and local problems must take place at the level of the expanded tribe, what civilization calls community . In effect, we will be required to become native to our little places if we are to become native to this place, this conti- Prologue 3 nent. Although we have told one another on bumper stickers and at environmental conferences that we must "think globally and act locally," we tend to drift toward mega-solutions. Rather than get busy, we introduce new terms such as "sustainable" to apply to any perceived solution that catches our fancy. Instead of looking to community, we look to public policy. We hold a global conference in Rio. To a large extent, this book is a challenge to the universities to stop and think what they are doing with the young men and women they are supposed to be preparing for the future. The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a "homecoming" major. But what if the universities were to ask seriously what it would mean to have as our national goal becoming native in this place, this continent? We are unlikely to achieve anything close to sustainability in any area unless we work for the broader goal of becoming native in the modern world, and that means becoming native to our places in a coherent community that is in turn embedded in the ecological realities of its surrounding landscape. This is not...


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