April 11, 2019
The Promise and Perils of Resurrecting Native Americans’ Lost Crops
ELIZABETH HORTON NEVER INTENDED FOR Plum Bayou to become a testing site for recovering lost crops. By planting historical staples such as Chenopodium berlandieri, a type of goosefoot and a cousin of modern-day quinoa, she sought to teach visitors about the agriculture of the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park’s original inhabitants. Yet Horton’s plants aren’t originals—they’re wild cousins of the crops that fed North America since at least 3900 BC. Due to a Native shift toward maize cultivation around 900 AD, and the devastation of Euro-American colonialism, these “lost crops” have been extinct for 500 years.
But when Horton planted wild goosefoot, knotweed, and marsh elder in her garden, something uncanny happened. “The plants in the garden started behaving very strangely,” Horton says. Under her care, the wild plants grew large, their seeds fat. It’s possible that the plants Horton cultivated are feral—strains that were once domesticated, but re-entered the wilderness long ago. It’s also possible that by tending to these wild plants, Horton triggered the same biological reactions that ancient Native Americans prompted when they originally domesticated these species.
Yet Natalie Mueller, an ethnobotanist and Cornell University postdoc affiliated with the Network, anticipates a far-out alternative. Advances in genetic engineering, particularly CRISPR, allow scientists to more easily and precisely edit plant genomes for specific characteristics. There’s already speculation that this technology could allow scientists to engineer favorable characteristics from ancient plant DNA into modern cultivars. As this technology advances, Mueller writes, it may be possible for researchers to genetically engineer exact modern replicas of lost ancient plants, de-extincting them Jurassic Park-style.
With the possibility of redomestication and even commercialization on the horizon, researchers must contend with the implications of this cultural history. Who should have the right to extract genetic material from archeological seeds that are the heritage of tribes across Eastern North America—especially since the very act of extracting DNA from ancient seeds destroys them? If ancient crops are redomesticated and even commercialized, who should profit?
In Other Food News…
Native American fry bread is the food of our oppression. It's also delicious, so we're reclaiming it.
For hundreds of years, white invaders — popularly known as “settlers” — declared open war on Native Americans, and not just our bodies. It was also a war on our spiritualties, cultures, crops and anything that had to do with our existence and survival.
One of the legacies of that brutal aspect of colonialism is now a beloved deep-fried confection found throughout the U.S. at pow wows, Indian art markets and all manner of Native American shindigs and dinners: It’s called fry bread.
‘As Native Americans, We Are in a Constant State of Mourning’
In the early 1920s, the director of the Bristol Museum in Britain received a package containing two human skulls. The donation came from Alfred Hutchins. He had left England seeking brighter horizons and by the late 1800s was living in Southern California. There he became an amateur archaeologist, excavating Native American graves on the Channel Islands. He offered the museum this collection, apparently in honor of his son, who perished during the First World War.
Last week in a ceremony, Bristol Museum officials returned the remains to representatives of the Ti’at Society, a maritime organization of the Tongva, whose forebears lived on the four southern Channel Islands and across the Los Angeles basin for thousands of years. In recent years, the Tongva and their allies, including the Fowler Museum at U.C.L.A., have been working to track down the fate of looted Tongva bodies so that they may be reburied. This effort led the tribe across the Atlantic and to its first international repatriation.
“As Native Americans, we are in a constant state of mourning,” Desiree Martinez, a Tongva member and professional archaeologist, said in an article in The Bristol News, “knowing that our ancestors’ graves have been disturbed and their remains and burial goods removed to sit on museum shelves, all over the world.”
In Other News Related to Generational Trauma…
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), the First Nations Repatriation Institute, and the University of Minnesota are pleased to announce the launch of a new study, Child Removal in Native Communities: An Anonymous Survey.
NABS aims to learn more about individuals’ experiences of child removal, the impacts these experiences have had on them and their descendants, and the methods that individuals are successfully using for healing intergenerational traumas
Normally racial identity theft — take the example of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who claimed she was “transracial” and therefore a black woman — is not socially acceptable. But Native identity seems an odd exception to this societal rule and is exploited by “pretendians,” or people pretending or claiming to be Native. Pretendians perpetuate the myth that Native identity is determined by the individual, not the tribe or community, directly undermining tribal sovereignty and Native self-determination.
To protect the rights of Indigenous people, pretendians like Wages and Warren must be challenged and the retelling of their false narratives must be stopped.
Native American athletes and fans face ongoing racism
Some of the students were crying as they got back on to the bus. In early 2015, Justin Poor Bear, now 39, chaperoned dozens of Native students to see a Rapid City Rush ice hockey game in South Dakota. The trip was part of an after-school program at American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “It’s not your fault,” Poor Bear told the bus full of kids as he drove home. During the third period, the chaperones alleged a white man poured beer on two of the students and called them racist slurs, a claim that could not be proven in court. Poor Bear was angry: He remembered experiencing the same kind of treatment during his high school basketball games in the ’90s.
“When you first hear the words, ‘Go back to the rez, prairie nigger,’ or name calling, it’s a shock moment,” said Poor Bear. “Then you realize they’re referring to us.” His basketball coach would tell the team: Don’t engage.
Rural towns are often highly supportive of their high school sports teams, and reservation athletics are no different. But racism has been rising in U.S. sports for the past four years, according to the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, and Native American athletes and fans are often subjected to racist bullying at sport events. In fact, for Native Americans, this treatment has been the rule, not the exception, for many years.
Arctic Treasures helps Alaskan carvers create art and new lives
The owner of an Anchorage store is giving back to his community by offering hope to Alaska Natives and other artisans with personal struggles.
Leon Kinneeveauk, who is Inupiaq from Kotzebue, bought Arctic Treasures Art Gallery last June. It’s a business that sells handcrafted art from all over Alaska. Arctic Treasures’ previous owner was recently charged with creating some of the art himself and fraudulently selling it as Alaska Native. The new owner says he is focusing on the future and using this store to help Alaskan Natives and other artisans get off the streets.
"The front here is sort of a gallery of different art from different areas in Alaska," said Kinneeveauk. The store features ivory, soapstone and antler carvings along with whale bone masks and other unique pieces.
Since he’s owned Arctic Treasures, he says he’s seen many people facing many different struggles just outside his front door.
"Homelessness, addiction, mental illness, we see it every day,” he said. "They come to the city in the hopes of doing good for their families, for themselves, and some things don't work out," Kinneeveauk said.
Kinneeveauk understands struggling; he has had some troubles of his own. He served time in prison for the murder of a Taco Bell employee in the early 2000s when he and two other men shot the victim through the drive-thru window. He says it was during his incarceration that he was inspired to create a place where people who struggle could help themselves and share their craft.
"What I noticed in the hobby shop was guys would get in there and they would start to feel stable," said Kinneeveauk.
Today’s History Lesson…
There are places where the world of the living brushes up against the world of the spirits. For the Cherokee of the southeastern United States, those places are caves, where the heat of day gives way to the coolness of damp earth, and the light of the sun is exchanged for the darkness of deep, timeless spaces.
Now, researchers exploring several caves near the Alabama-Georgia border have discovered, for the first time, inscriptions describing sacred rituals and reaching out to ancestors, all in the Cherokee script invented by prominent Native American polymath Sequoyah before his people were forcibly moved to western reservations in the 1830s.