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Native Americans were in decline before Columbus  RSS feed

 
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so the "good old days" may not have been so good

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/winter-2017/article/climate-change-drove-population-decline-in-new-world-before-europeans-arrived

Climate change drove population decline in New World before Europeans arrived

What caused the rapid disappearance of a vibrant Native American agrarian culture that lived in urban settlements from the Ohio River Valley to the Mississippi River Valley in the two centuries preceding the European settlement of North America? In a new study, researchers from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis reconstructed and analyzed 2,100 years of temperature and precipitation data—and point the finger at climate change.
Employing proxies of prehistoric temperature and precipitation preserved in finely layered lake sediments, somewhat analogous to tree-ring records used to reconstruct drought and temperature, the IUPUI scientists have reported on the dramatic environmental changes that occurred as the Native Americans—known as Mississippians—flourished and then vanished from the Midwestern United States. The researchers theorize that the catastrophic climate change they observed, which doomed food production, was a primary cause of the disappearance.

 
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This is actually fairly old news. I was reading about it in the 90's

Though they did not exactly vanish, they just broke up into smaller groups and spread out more. Forming the foundations of the loosely affiliated tribes Europeans encountered when they did arrive. It also wasn't just a massive drought that caused the "empire" to fail. But a youthful and inexperienced ruler taking power. He continued to demand the same tax/tribute from people when their crops were failing due to drought. This caused many to just leave and the others to start a small civil war to depose the ruler. The end of which saw the complete collapse of the society as everyone disbanded into smaller groups, rather than trying to continue with the failed civilization.

And speaking of, these remnants of that culture where then wiped out massively due to 1 sick Spanish man being left behind when the Spaniards sailed up the Mississippi. That spread through the native populations like wild fire and what was once a quite powerful and populated region became a void of isolated people.

This further altered the culture and landscape of the interior of N America. A double blow destroying the people who lived there.
 
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Interesting, thanks for sharing!

Note that the article is about one period in one region in North America.  The Americas are enormous and over thousands of years conditions changed differently in different areas, and civilizations rose and fell all the time.  None of those declines or falls really compare in magnitude to the death toll caused by the introduction of Old World diseases after Columbus, though.  Numbers are hard to estimate well but it seems like current thinking is that Native populations dropped about 90% due to disease after contact.
 
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Agriculture is very vulnerable to climate change.  Fortunately now we're learning Permaculture!

http://kennysideshow.blogspot.com/2008/05/agriculture-or-permaculture-why-words.html
 
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I recommend Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Aside from the fascinating, deeply researched story of the social and political beginnings of New England, there is a good bit of info on native agricultural and community-organizing practices.

There was an epidemic in 1616-19 that swept the east coast, decimating the population just before the Pilgrims arrived. They found (and stole) caches of corn, some left by dead people and some by living owners.
 
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From the article: "....IUPUI scientists have reported on the dramatic environmental changes that occurred as the Native Americans—known as Mississippians—flourished and then vanished from the Midwestern United States. The researchers theorize that the catastrophic climate change they observed, which doomed food production, was a primary cause of the disappearance."

Yeah, I'd have to read the full article to get a flavor for what is new information relative to books and other articles already describing Cahokia and the Mississippian cultures--maybe it's just better data at this point on the climactic angle for the decline:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia
 
duane hennon
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I would like to venture a few points before this gets reported or sent to the cider press

the arrival of improving climate coincided with the arrival of Europeans
many Native Americans living when the Europeans came weren't "living in harmony with nature" (they were struggling to survive)
the Europeans didn't disrupt a way of life "unchanged for thousands of years"
the great buffalo herds didn't start to grow and expand until the decline of the Native Americans due to the drought
the shifting climate favored grasslands over farmlands
the remaining Native Americans couldn't really take advantage of the buffalo and start to flourish until they had the horse


http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/10/513963490/1-000-years-ago-corn-made-this-society-big-then-a-changing-climate-destroyed-the

1,000 Years Ago, Corn Made This Society Big. Then, A Changing Climate Destroyed It
 
Tyler Ludens
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duane hennon wrote:

the remaining Native Americans couldn't really take advantage of the buffalo and start to flourish until they had the horse



Only the Plains tribes had culture based on the bison, so they were not "the remaining Native Americans."  There were some 500 distinct cultures in North America prior to European conquest. 

 
Glenn Herbert
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Some tribes (western ones especially) claim to have inhabited the same land continuously for thousands (sometimes many thousands) of years. I don't have an authoritative opinion on that, but there is documentation of a number of eastern tribes migrating in early historic or prehistoric times, sometimes due to warfare, aggression, or maybe just population pressures. As the Iroquois Confederacy grew, they pushed on other populations, and then the Tuscaroras arrived from the South and were given refuge and finally membership.

Some tribes (Plains area, Southwest) had declined before Europeans, others declined catastrophically from European diseases, and some just faded from relentless pressure.
 
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Was this decline just before Columbus or just before the actual European first contact (Basque and Nordic sailors and fishermen)? Algonquins already had Basque names from intermarriage with fisherman/explorers when French and Spanish contacted them in the 1490s (Kurlansky). This is because Basques and Vikings had reached North America already on fishing excursions which kept Catholic Europe fed on Fridays. I would venture to guess they brought diseases with them that started problems for Native Americans.

This sounds very familiar to the misconception we had about Easter Island, which did not collapse because of ecological exploitation but rather due to Captain Cook's introduced diseases (according University of Hawaii anthropology department head and chair of a major Easter Island research study). I think it is a lot easier for us to accept a story where climate or people's misuse of the land lead to their demise rather than our dirty European asses getting millions of people sick.
 
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Interesting how all these "reports" were written by white men.
Sounds like they still try to shift blame or make out that "it wasn't us" for what I see as worse than Hitler's abominations.
White eyes came here long before "Columbus", once the tall ships came did the holocaust begin.

Redhawk
 
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The beaver trade was a massive precipitating factor in the disruption and death of native peoples across North America.

Erik Wolf's classic, "Europe and the People Without History" chronicles the movement of people displaced by the beaver trade as the trapping moved steadily westward to exploit un-tapped resources.  Disease, intra-tribal warfare, and the scramble for the resources brought by the white man's "need" for beaver pelts for hats in Europe.  What gold was to the 16th and 17th centuries, beavers were in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I would suggest that the destruction of this key-stone species (beavers) unleashed more environmental chaos than any other single variable in North American ecological history, and that includes the climate change we are seeing today.
 
duane hennon
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let's all go to the ciderpress....


Native Americans were naive about the wider world, but were not children
they participated in the trade because they wanted what the white men had
guns, horses, wool blankets, cotton clothing,  metal knives and axes, metal cooking pots, new fruit and vegetables, etc
they helped decimate the beaver without any "modern" ecological thinking
disease and greed merely aggravated existing tensions  over hunting grounds
as one tribe would side with the whites to attack another tribe

the Native Americans of the plains did the same thing years later with the buffalo
as buffalo hides became the thing that the white traders wanted
a number of tribes had the same idea of becoming nomadic and following the buffalo (now that horses made that possible)
and many brutal tribal wars were fought on the plains,  up to 1840 when a peace was finally declared
living on the plains required horses, lots of them, (10 to 12/person)
and these horses also competed with the buffalo for grass ( which varied depending upon the rains)
the plains people didn't farm or store hay for winter
so many horses starved to death in winter
requiring more buffalo hides to replace their horses each spring.....


see "The Contested Plains - Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado by Elliott West, University of Kansas Press, 1998

one could see this as a cautionary tale
of what happens when a less technical society
adopts a technology (in this case, horses)
without fully understanding it requirements and ramifications
(farms, winter feed, etc)
 
Glenn Herbert
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Beaver alter their landscape by building dams, flooding lowlands, cutting down trees. This creates ponds for fish habitat, possibly water retention and aquifer recharge in drier climates, a source of ample drinking water for all animals in the area, sediment trapping which enhances soil fertility as the ponds turn to wetland and then meadow, more meadow/edge habitat from clearing trees...
 
duane hennon
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rather than a people "frozen in time and culture"
the "Native Americans" it turns out were evolving just like everyone else
http://nativesnewsonline.com/2017/04/16/dna-scientists-claim-that-cherokees-are-from-the-middle-east/

DNA scientists claim that Cherokees are from the Middle East

The laboratory immediately stumbled into a scientific hornet’s nest. That Cherokee princess in someone’s genealogy was most likely a Jewish or North African princess. Its scientists have labeled the Cherokees not as Native Americans, but as a Middle Eastern-North African population.Cherokees have high levels of test markers associated with the Berbers, native Egyptians, Turks, Lebanese, Hebrews and Mesopotamians. Genetically, they are more Jewish than the typical American Jew of European ancestry. So-called “full-blooded” Cherokees have high levels of European DNA and a trace of Asiatic (Native American) DNA. Their skin color and facial features are primarily Semitic in origin, not Native American.




At present, the researchers at DNA Consultants seem unaware that throughout the 1600s Iberian Sephardic Jews and Moorish Conversos colonized the North Carolina and Georgia Mountains, where they mined and worked gold and silver. All European maps show western North Carolina occupied by Apalache, Creek, Shawnee and Yuchi Indians until 1718. Most of these indigenous tribal groups were forced out in the early 1700s. Anglo-American settlers moving into northeastern Tennessee and extreme southwestern Virginia mentioned seeing Jewish speaking villages in that region until around 1800.

How the occupants of the North Carolina Mountains became a mixed Semitic, North African, European and Native American population, known as the Cherokees, remains a mystery. Slave raids may have been a factor. The 18th century Cherokees were the “biggest players” in the Native Americans slave trade. Perhaps young Sephardic females were captured by slave raiders to be concubines and wives



 
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I found the book 1491 very interesting. It's been a year and change since my last read, but I believe it was the Cahokians that were being discussed as the mound-building southeastern american people whose civilisation collapsed because of climate change. What I gathered from that, though, was that it was incredibly localised, and that they caused it. The book suggested that they cut lumber for their various uses from the outskirts of their settlement (I forget the size, but there were thousands, if not tens of thousands, of inhabitants). They just harvested the trees that were closest, to avoid unnecessary travel. As the clearing enlarged, the land's hydrology was altered, as was its ability to absorb water. The result was hydrological devastation. The evidence presented, I believe, was sedimentary layers in core samples taken from the area that were greatly increased over time, until the point of the civilisation's collapse. I do need to re-read that book, though, but I will edit or repost entirely if I find I am in error. If the ability of the land to retain water was compromised, though, by the time that drought became a problem in the midwest, that lack of retentive ability and years of flood damage would only make the area more sensitive to decreased precipitation.

I think what we are talking about here are the natural growing pains, the learning process, of a people creating permaculture. A people, or many diverse groups of people, that were so instrumental to the land that many consider THEM the keystone species of pre-colombian America. In the larger context, these ingenious people performed the first and most monumental of plant husbandry projects, engineering corn out of grass over thousands of years. They maintained open land with fire to the extent that whole ecosystems, even now, could not survive without burning over occasionally. And a series of systems were being maintained so seamlessly that when europeans arrived to settle, they thought they were looking at untouched, unspoiled virgin wilderness. Of course, between initial contact and the first waves of settlement, the cleared space that had first been there had grown over into something more resembling wilderness, but a 90% die-off of the indigenous population that were its caretakers would do that.

As to the OP's statement, I don't see the dynamism of a people adapting to changing living conditions as evidence of decline. I saw a show on the History Channel discussing exactly the situation Devin describes. I think the assumptions inherent to the title bear a kind of civilisation bias, one that assumes that a civilisation is only vital if it resembles the classic old-world models. Why can't you have a less-centralised and still vibrant civilisation? I have never been a tribalist, if that is the right word, but especially in times of resource scarcity, doesn't it make sense to learn from evolutionary history? The largest organisms die out first, don't they? And so as an adaptible organism, these people decentralised their civilisation, organising into smaller bodies that required fewer resources. They were also, thanks to smaller size, more mobile and better able to react or respond to changing conditions, and to exploit advantages of regional microclimates. In the larger sense, if one smaller body failed, it didn't necessarily lead to a greater drain on the rest of the whole.

And what was the result? Over 500 distinct cultures. I think the term "decline" inappropriate in this context. I think it suggests population decline, when only the loss of static settlements was mentioned in the article. I think the way it was used is clumsy and suggests an effort to exhonorate European colonialism, whether or not that was the intent. I think that a decentralised civilisation transitioning from a monolithic one doesn't represent decline, whatever the forcing factors, but perhaps progress to a more resilient, adaptable, sustainable, dare I say permacultural form of civilisation.

-CK
 
duane hennon
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I would tend away from attributing everything to the ecological knowledge of the "noble savages" as opposed to the evil white men.

do any of the histories or legends of the native Americans include this period of time when they lived in large settlements?

my guess is that they lived within nature because that's all their stone aged technologies allowed.
with the coming of metal, horses and guns, their use of nature changed.
 
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Native populations in Canada are growing quite rapidly. They have the highest birth rate in the country. There is also much integration both culturally and genetically. I'm on the west coast, where contact with Europeans came much later. Still, in the south, many are of mixed heritage. Further north, the majority are native on both sides of the family, but even there, some families have a gold miner or explorer of European ancestry.

When I lived in Ontario, I'm met many people who had native status, who were obviously more European genetically.

One member of my mother's family was a Searson from Newfoundland. They identify as being Micmac. This would make me 1/32 Micmac, if the great great grandmother was in fact of pure blood, which is highly unlikely. The family looks nothing like the source population that they identify with.
 
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I went home to Alaska summer before last and was surprised when I walked into the Walmart in Anchorage and realized that (judging by appearance) about 1/4 of the people around me were mixed native and white ancestry (may have been that particular walmart or the time of day, but it surprised me).  I've been living in the midwest for several years and so I noticed the ethnological difference.  I noticed after the 2000 census that the ethnic group in the US with the highest birth rate were eskimos (may not be the pc name, but the other names I know are all for smaller groups).

My first general observation is that "Folks are Folks", ethnicity notwithstanding, we're pretty much all the same.  People overall take a fairly short term view of things, but if we live in a stable situation for many generations our mistakes catch up with us and we figure out ways of doing things that work long term.  For this to happen though we need to live in the same area with the same lifestyle for many generations.  Once you introduce something new into the mix (like horses, steel axes or guns or invasive species, like rabbits or humans from elsewhere) and you've upset the apple cart and we have to rebalance. 

We are currently in one of these "upset the apple cart" phases.  Cheap oil, massive incursions of immigrants into new  areas (the immigrants often coming from different ecologic regions and therefor with cultural practices often out of place in the new land), massive changes in social, spiritual and ecologic attitudes have characterized the last few hundred years in most of the world. 

Prior to the arrival of the europeans, native americans were living their lives and occasionally doing horific things to each other, just like folks in most other parts of the world.  Just like folks in other parts of the world, they had customs and philosophies and perceptions of honor that tried to minimilize or at least ritualize violence. These work best among people from a similar set of customs or philosophies.  If the whites hadn't moved into the plains, by now the locals would have hunted out most of the buffalo and had to figure out another way.  The desertification of the southwest happened centuries before the europeans arrived (although the arrival of sheep and cattle certainly made things worse).  I remember reading how the native americans, in one battle between the french and english,quit the battle and all went up on a hillside to watch the insane and stupid way the europeans were fighting.  They were horrified at the thought of standing in a line while another line shot at you.  It struck them as a waste of their own men (which I think was sensible).  The europeans were horrified when their native american allies swooped down and massacred troops who had surrendered and had been allowed to leave in peace ( a sensible european method of reducing the deaths of your own menn that would be required to overwhelm the other side in a last ditch stand).  Don't waste time blaming Christopher Columbus, who acted a lot like a 15th century european for some reason.  He doesn't look so good judged by our standards of justice and honor.  We may not look too good judged by his standards.  Accept that it happened, make things right when you can and move on.  Realize that nothing now will make up for a person's suffering a 100 years ago. 

Once the stampede or riot is over, people generally reassess and try to put things back together in a workable solution.  That is where we are now, in the early stages of cleaning up the mess.  Permaculture is part of that solution (not just the physical methods, but also the philosophy).  While I think we're at the stage of starting to clean up the mess, there's still a lot of stampeding going on also.  I expect it will take at least another 100 years before society really figures it out and stabilizes, assuming we survive as a society that long.

A big part of the current problem is spiritual (or if that offends you, philosophical), meaning, our society can't agree on what is our value system and what guides our behavior.  We are currently wrestling with past injustices both real and imagined (but to be honest, it doesn't matter if past injustices were real or just perceived, because as long as someone believes they were treated unjustly there is a problem).  As a society, we no longer agree on what is right or wrong, honorable or dishonorable.  Until we get a handle on that, our society will continue to be "like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying ... nothing" (paraphrasing shakespeare).
 
Chris Kott
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(Stands, turns to Mike Fisch, and applauds loudly).

There is far too little of the quoting of Shakespeare in my life for my liking. I am delighted to see it on one of my favourite sites. Permies really are the greatest people.

I like the "Folks are Folks" observation. Perhaps a little more from Billy Shakespeare?

"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

It applies culturally even more today. Who we are is defined by biology to a great extent. Our needs are the same, and our wants informed by them. We may see things differently, and express ourselves differently, but ultimately how different are we from one another? I, as a Canadian of Eastern European descent, am closer to other Canadians, and other Westerners, than I am to Columbus in terms or cultural morés, even though we have a Roman Catholic upbringing in common (Polish Catholic of the same era would likely make Spanish Catholic look a bit anemic, by contrast, but either way, the cultures were far from similar from the get-go).

We can't get anywhere if we're constantly treating each other as though belonging to other species with questionable rights to the benefits of society we take for granted, be our differences cultural, ancestral, religious, or ideological (separate from religious ideology). We need to proceed from an assumption that everyone deserves to have their rights respected and not impinged upon, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual preference, culture or ancestry, religious affiliation or lack thereof, or current position in socioeconomic terms.

This one is difficult, because I feel in no way qualified to discuss solutions to issues of settler-occupied unceeded Aboriginal land, as it might be termed, because while my family is recently arrived in Canada, relatively speaking (my mother and her family arrived when she was 5 in the mid-sixties and my father was born here after his parents escaped Poland and fought for the Brits in WWII, with a decade-long pit-stop in Great Britain), I live here. This is my home. I feel passionately, though, that we have to begin the process of building ourselves into a whole nation, without recriminations, respecting that we can't really hold the descendants of settlers of hundreds of years ago to task for acting to the standard of the day, but that we also can't ignore the consequences of their actions that we benefit from to this day. We also can't continue to let our governments talk about reconciliation and roads to the future and then allow different levels of government to pick apart treaties signed in good faith for economic benefit.

For the non-Canadians here, I know the situation is different south of the border. We probably get more American history than you get Canadian history, but I get the feeling that it was worse for Aboriginal populations there. I can't speak to specific issues, but I think respect and reconciliation has to be the cornerstone of the building of any future together. I think we, everyone, and either in the American melting pot fashion or the Canadian multicultural one, are better and stronger together. We are more interesting together, and the different ways in which we love, live, work, and appreciate our world only serve to contrast with eachother, highlighting the uniqueness of each at the same time as the similarities are underlined.

So as to the OP's question, yeah, okay, so Columbus arrived during a dip in the population. So?

-CK
 
John Weiland
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Chris Kott wrote:

We can't get anywhere if we're constantly treating each other as though belonging to other species with questionable rights...We need to proceed from an assumption that everyone deserves to have their rights respected and not impinged upon, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual preference, culture or ancestry, religious affiliation or lack thereof, or current position in socioeconomic terms.



Given that we're in the "ulcer factory", this is the first place I would start.  Perhaps I will be misreading, but why should this list of glowing sentiments not be applied to all of creation? 
 
Chris Kott
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Sometimes you have to state the obvious plainly, John. Sometimes it is necessary to point out that the ways in which we differ don't negate our basic rights. Because people aren't as wise, sometimes, as we here on the forums at Permies.

Either that, or I am misunderstanding your question.

-CK
 
John Weiland
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Chris Kott wrote:

Either that, or I am misunderstanding your question.



Possibly....but it might just be a muddy area for discussion.  Would this be able to substitute for your original sentence?:  "We need to proceed from an assumption that *everything* deserves to have *its* rights respected and not impinged upon, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual preference *(if applicable)*, culture or ancestry, religious affiliation or lack thereof, or current position in socioeconomic terms."

Clearly the bulk of humanity is still struggling with this concept of "rights" when it comes to its own species as well as other species, but assuming that one is going to apply 'rights' to decision-making, is it wise to apply that above sentence only to humans?  I don't have an answer to that question, but it seems an important question to keep in mind when making plans for a potential permie future.
 
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I feel like you are touching on a topic that has been on my mind lately John. I live in a deeply liberal area. There is a healthy dose of radical liberals of various stripes and a preponderance of the more bland liberals common in college towns nation wide. Germane to this topic this means there are a lot of vegetarians and vegans, it is a very hip diet and dietary preferences are surely high on the list of life choices to be judged for.  I am a devoted omnivore with a great love of meat, who believes that the important thing with all food is that it is raised and/or harvested respectfully and sustainably, and that is one of my issues with the vege/vegan mindset, they will go on at length about the sorry state of factory farmed animals but don't ever seem to consider that a kale plant, or a carrot, or a soy bean plant, might not be very happy about being grown in a massive monocrop and then having it's sex organs harvest by machine a few days before it and all of it's friends are systematically murdered. My point is, what do the rights of other species look like? Clearly we have to acknowledge that all of life proceeds from death. So given that, what does it look like to ethically conduct that an organism toward our sustenance?

As I write this I am tending to a corkscrew press that is processing the unborn seed of some pumpkins I enslaved from birth into oil to provide flavor and nutrition to me and my family and protein rich meal for my chickens. What treatment did I owe to these beings? Very interesting questions if you ask me.

And to tie this back to the OP, does it make it more ethical to visit decimation on a struggling population? Doesn't really ring true to me.
I feel like Redhawk hit it on the head, this sounds like a bit more of white eyes 'discovering' evidence that really what our ancestors did wasn't that bad afterall.  This is the story of history, populations of humans destroying other populations of humans so that the former can have the latters stuff. The difference here is that both parties still cohabitate, and the choice for us non-native Americans is to either acknowledge that we don't want that to be our story and begin to honor our treaties and work towards an even more fair reconciliation or to state, through our actions, that we are happy to be a part of this history of destruction and consumption.
 
You're not going crazy. You're going sane in a crazy word. Find comfort in this tiny ad:
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