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What American Indians can teach us about permaculture

Disney's PocahantasI have to admit, I was raised on the "Noble Savage" belief that American Indians had a pure connection with the nearly untouched wilderness they lived in.  I spent my childhood running wild and pretending that I was an Indian, not a plain old American of mixed European descent.  My preservation ethic was built in large part on these beliefs...which have now been debunked by the scientific community.

In actuality, evidence suggests that the pre-Columbian American Indians lived in a highly constructed landscape.  Over two thirds of the United States was devoted to farmland, game was scarce (having been hunted close to extinction near settled areas), and forests were young and impacted by frequent, human-lit fires.

Then Europeans arrived and brought with them diseases that nearly wiped out the Native American population.  The suddenly human-free, formerly cultivated landscape gave rise to huge populations of bison, elk, deer, and passenger pigeons, which feasted on corn left uneaten by dead Indians.  Then the forests began to grow up and take over the cultivated land, so that explorers in the eighteenth century reported vast expanses of "virgin" forests.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the deeply human-impacted nature of the American landscape, we have a lot to learn from the American Indians.  This week's lunchtime series summarizes the permaculture implications of Charles C. Mann's fascinating book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  I highly recommend you check the book out of your local library and peruse it on a suddenly sunny Saturday between visits to the wringer washer, the way I did.

This post is part of our American Indian Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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Interesting revision of history. I have to read this book.
Comment by Jen Tue Oct 26 13:33:04 2010
I definitely recommend it, especially if you have time to follow all of the tangents you'll want to research afterwards. :-)
Comment by anna Tue Oct 26 13:42:03 2010

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime