October 12, 2018
Fire and agroforestry revive California indigenous groups’ traditions
For centuries, the Karuk tribe has nudged this interlocking ecosystem toward producing these beneficial plants through practices known as agroforestry. An ancient technology developed through time by the Karuk tribe and indigenous people around the world, agroforestry integrates crops and livestock into the grasses, shrubs and trees of native forests. After this 2-hectare (5-acre) stand burned in a wildfire in 2001, Karuk and Forest Service crews intentionally burned the land again in 2016 as a research plot. They’re using it to study how fire affects the food and other forest products that have sustained Native Americans in the Klamath River watershed for millennia.
For these tribes, plots like this are “our orchards, our gardens, and we cultivate them with fire,” says Lake, a slim man with a crew cut and multiple studs in his ears.
This site is part of an ambitious venture aimed at restoring the 5,700 square kilometers (2,200 square miles) that comprise Karuk aboriginal lands. The tribe is working in collaboration with the Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), U.C. Berkeley, and numerous other partners to restore the territory, now almost all federally administered, to the functional landscape Karuks once stewarded. Their plans include a 22-square-kilometer (86-square mile) project near Orleans, approved in July by Forest Service officials for a management plan that incorporates Karuk traditional techniques. The partners are also using many of the principles of multi-story agroforestry, increasingly popular in the developing world, while reconnecting with tribal ways.
Maintaining healthy ecosystems not only assures tribe members of the food, medicines and materials they need to survive, says Bill Tripp, deputy director of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources, it also embodies a sacred commitment integral to their social fabric, their ceremonies, and most deeply held beliefs.
An ‘Ancestral Memory’ Inscribed in Skin
Grete Chythlook dreamed of the tattoo before she had ever seen one in person: a few fine lines drawn from the bottom lip down to the tip of the chin.
“I didn’t know anybody who had a chin tattoo,” she said, “whether Inuit, Gwich’in or any other group.” So when a friend asked her to accompany her to a tattooing session, and the design matched her vision, she sensed that something special was happening.
“Being in the room with her while she was getting these marks was so powerful, I couldn’t process it,” Ms. Chythlook said. “I came home and I told my husband, ‘This is a part of me. This is real. This is something I can’t deny anymore.’”
These line tattoos speak to a practice that dates back at least 10,000 years and is now being revitalized by Alaska Native women who want to reconnect with the traditions of their ancestors.
How the loss of Native American languages affects our understanding of the natural world
Alaska has a “linguistic emergency,” according to the Alaskan Gov. Bill Walker. A report warned earlier this year that all of the state’s 20 Native American languages might cease to exist by the end of this century, if the state did not act.
American policies, particularly in the six decades between the 1870s and 1930s, suppressed Native American languages and culture. It was only after years of activism by indigenous leaders that the Native American Languages Act was passed in 1990, which allowed for the preservation and protection of indigenous languages. Nonetheless, many Native American languages have been on the verge of extinction for the past many years.
Languages carry deep cultural knowledge and insights. So, what does the loss of these languages mean in terms of our understanding of the world?
In Similar News…
Most people use DUOLINGO, the popular language learning app, to learn widely-used languages such as French, Spanish, or Chinese, but now you can learn two languages very few others can speak. In an effort to preserve indigenous languages that are nearing extinction by exposing them to a wider audience, Duolingo just added Hawaii’s ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi language, and Diné, the Navajo language, to its list of learnable languages.
Under an administrative order issued by Gov. Bill Walker last month, state agencies, schools, the University of Alaska and other stakeholders will work together to identify the Indigenous words and place names that should be put on signs on roadways, in the state ferry system and in other public places.
“This order focuses on concrete ways Alaska can show leadership to support its first people and their languages — one of our richest and most at-risk resources,” Walker said in a statement. “It’s our responsibility to acknowledge government’s historical role in the suppression of indigenous languages, and our honor to move into a new era by supporting their revitalization.”