Review: Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America

By Webster, Anthony K. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Review: Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America


Webster, Anthony K., Electronic Green Journal


Review: Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America By Douglas Duer and Nancy Turner (Eds.) Reviewed by Anthony K. Webster Southern Illinois University, USA Douglas Duer and Nancy Turner (Eds.). Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. 384 pp. ISBN: 0-295-98512-7. US $ 50.00 cloth.

Contrary to popular wisdom, Northwest Coast Native Americans were doing far more than fishing; they were actively managing the lands around them. This is the argument made by the authors included in Keeping It Living. For many years, the Northwest

Coast has stood as both an enigma and a prototype. It was an enigma in the sense that there were large sedentary populations without obvious agriculture. It was a prototype, in that it was used as evidence that sedentary lifestyles do not equal agriculture. The latter may still be true, but the former argument has been seriously damaged by this collection of essays. Of particular interest are Wayne Suttles' excellent article on "incipient agriculture" among the Coast Salish; James McDonald's piece on Tsimshian horticulture, Madonna L. Moss's piece on Tlingit horticulture, and Douglas Deur's piece on gardening among Northwest Coast peoples. The use of fire or the repeated uses of berry patches all suggest an intentional management of the environment, the use of inland areas for the procurement of foodstuffs. It was not just the sea or the rivers (though rivers could be used for gardening).

Also of import is the idea of ownership of land, or "resource holdings." In this regard, the essay by Nancy J. Turner, Robin Smith, and James T. John outlines in great detail the ways that Northwest Coast people organized land "ownership." As Duer and Turner point out in their insightful introduction, anthropologists, geographers, linguists, and the like missed the nascent agriculture that was occurring among Northwest Coast peoples, precisely because they were predisposed to see agriculture as something else- something that fit a Western model (we should be wary of such selfidentification).

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