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

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Keeping it Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Edited by Douglas Deur and Nancy J. Turner. (Seatde: University of Washington Press, 2005. Pp. xiv + 340, preface, introduction, photographs, illustrations, tables, map, bibliography, index. $50.00 cloth)

Douglas Deur and Nancy J. Turner's anthology calls into question the idea, long-dominant among archaeologists and anthropologists, that Pacific Northwest Coast Indians achieved their pre-contact social and cultural complexity without agriculture. The book consists of two parts: four chapters on conceptual and theoretical issues surrounding peoples who do not fit neady under the rubric of either "hunter-gatherer" or "agriculturalist," followed by six case studies highlighting diverse precontact practices of wild food cultivation and management. Among the subjects discussed in the anthology are the limitations of conceptual categories; alternative models for understanding the cultural resources utilized among Northwest Coast indigenous groups; and particular strategies used indigenously to change plants and fjieir soil structure.

In the preface, First-Nations scholar E. Richard Atleo, who also uses the name Umeekof Ahoust, emphasizes the need to understand the worldview of Native peoples, especially with relation to land and resource management. Editors Deur and Turner, in the introduction, set the tone and goals of the book when they state, "The role of humans in modifying Northwestern environments was much understated and misunderstood" (3). Both scholars provide several explanations regarding these misunderstandings in the ethnographic, historical, and archaeological record. Contributor Bruce D. Smith, in "Low Level Food Production and the Northwest Coast," examines key concepts - hunting and gathering, cultivation, domestication - to reassess the supposed singularity of Northwest Coast societies and to questions their classification as "complex" or "affluent" hunter-gatherers. Nancy J. Turner and Sandra Peacock, in "Solving the Perennial Paradox: Ethnobotanical Evidence for Plant Resource Management on the Northwest Coast," confront the widely held belief that Pacific Northwest cultures reached a high level of complexity by exploiting natural resources without practicing food production and domestication. The audiors rely on multiple sources ethnobotanical literature, ethnographic accounts, and interviews with community consultants-to provide evidence of a wide array of precontact plant management techniques: foraging, cultivation, harvest, and extraction (digging, tilling, weeding, clearing, and fertilizing). All these plant management strategies, the authors believe, existed along the Pacific Northwest Coast before the arrival of Europeans. In "A Fine Line between Two Nations: Ownership Patterns for Plant Resources among Nordwest Coast Indigenous Peoples," authors Nancy J. Turner, Robin Smidi, and James T.Jones examine land and resource ownership patterns based on both ethnographic descriptions and recollections of First-Nation people from the late nineteenth century to the present. …


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