Thursday, December 13, 2012

American Colonies and British Empire Built with Native Farmed Trees

Part 5 of the series Are Native Americans Relevant?

Native Americans knew how to treat the forest to keep it clear of dangerous undergrowth and dead material that fuels large first.  This practice enabled them to travel easily and to spot unwelcome visitors. Natives employed forestry practices that maximized the growth of trees and other useful plants and minimized others that were not.  Native Americans also knew how to use backfires to control large fires.

Trees were an important source of food and construction material for the Native people and later the settlers.  In the Northeast Native Americans lived in wigwams or longhouses made of trees and bark.  Natives taught Europeans to gather native nuts such as pecans, hickory and pine nuts, acorns and walnuts, as well as paw paw and maypop fruits.  They showed them how to make maple syrup.  The sassafras tree was used to make tea, medicine, flavoring and dye.
The British needed large trees to use as ship masts for their navy.  The preferred tree was the North American white pine that grew to more than 250 feet tall and 5 feet wide.  The navy also needed the resin, tar, and pitch produced from North America’s trees.  These trees allowed the British navy to expand greatly to increase British commercial and military power and create an empire with colonies across the globe.

Many Americans became wealthy from companies using wood products.  New England settlers sold lumber and firewood to European sailors.  Frequently the local lumber industry used Natives.  New England ships dominated early whaling industry because American built ships were cheaper.  The colonies also sold vast quantities of fish and firewood to Caribbean sugar mills.

Wood was important economically.  Not only did wooden structures house people and businesses and provide sailing ships, wagons, early railroad cars, bridges and toll roads were built out of wood. 

Native Americans remain connected with their environment.  In the post contact era, it was common for Native people to earn money by making and selling baskets, commonly made from ash trees.  In the late 1990s Native Americans made up more than one half or more of the total forest fire fighting forces.  Some of the best fire teams were Native American.  Of the sixty-five most skilled crews, the Type 1 crews, five were made up exclusively of Native Americans.  Seventy percent of the majority of fire crews, the Type 2, are comprised of Native Americans. 
One of the best Type 1 crews is the Fort Apache Hotshots.  They were one of the first Native units and are considered one of the best in the world.  The members train with six months of daily running and conditioning.  The Chief Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew from the Blackfeet Reservation in Western Montana is so highly regarded it is among the first to be called into action each season. 

Europeans Adopted Native Hunting and Fishing Technology

Part 4 of the series Are Native Americans Relevant?

The early colonists had virtually no hunting experience because fish, fowl and game belonged to the aristocracy from whom it was a ritualized sport.  Because Europeans were divided into strict social and occupational classes, they didn’t know how to do things they weren’t trained to do.  The first colonists didn’t know how to hunt for food and had to depend upon the Native Americans either to bring them game or to teach them to hunt it themselves.  However, in Canada Natives supplied fresh, smoked and prepared meats and pemmican, mainly to the fur trading companies.

Once the colonists learned how to hunt, they continued to use many Native techniques.  Frontiersman used Native style clothing and equipment.  They adopted the use of  decoys, camouflage and hides.  They traveled through the countryside using Native-made canoes, kayaks, snowshoes, toboggans, waterproof ponchos, anoraks and snow goggles. 

Native fish became important with the arrival of the first European sailors and large scale commercial fishing began.  For the first century after 1492 the most important native resource was the cod off Newfoundland and Labrador.  There was a steady flow of European fishing vessels after 1500.  Dried cod became a staple protein for the urban poor in Europe.  Native Americans were kidnapped and made to work in the fishing and whaling industries as a quick way for the industry to gain the Native fishermen’s knowledge.  After gaining their freedom Native Americans kept fishing and whaling. 
Native Americans living in on the coasts survived primarily on fish and other marine life.  Native Americans constructed fish weirs to control the location and habitat of the fish.  Commercial fisherman adopted the use of their gill nets.  Natives still participate in the modern commercial fish market.