Native Americans, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

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Unformatted text preview: time, which seemed incomprehensible to the European colonists, creating a “paradox of want in a land of plenty.”2 Native Americans in southern New England differed slightly from their northern counterparts because they cultivated agriculture. Women spent hours in the fields while men spent the days hunting, gathering, and fishing. According to the European colonists, Native American men had menial and insignificant tasks, while women were supporting entire villages. Europeans were not accustomed to the Indians’ method of harvesting. Fields were disorderly and dense so as to keep the soil rich, prevent weed growth, and have high yields. Agricultural societies of Native Americans also burned forests to, “drive game for hunting, to clear fields for planting, and on at least one occasion to fend off European invaders.”3 This selective burning of forests created ideal habitats for species such as elk, deer, and turkeys, as well as allowing forests to grow in different stages. The ecosystem of New England ultimately benefitted from the knowledge possessed by Native Americans. 2 William Cronon, Changes in the Land, 41. 3 Ibid 50. Gibbons 3 Native Americans were in tune with their surroundings. William Cronon effectively concludes that the land was intricately linked to every aspect of their culture and their extensive knowledge placed them at a distinct advantage over European colonists. Cronon provides many examples that demonstrate the key advantage that Native Americans had over Europeans: mobility. They were able to move with the land and adapt to their environments. They adjusted their diets according to seasons and availability of food and utilized various techniques, such as selective burning to benefit both themselves and the environment. While the Europeans eventually learned about their environment, their permanent settlements limited their ability to fully use and appreciate the land. Cronon concludes that the skill of adaptability by Native Americans allowed for them to take command over and improve the ecosystem of New England. Native Americans operated within the “patchwork of the landscape.”4 Cronon is able to successfully prove that, in changing with the land, Native Americans were able to maximize abundance and stability. 4 4 William Cronon, Changes in the Land, 53. Gibbons Bibliography Cronon, William, “Seasons of Want and Plenty.” In Changes in the Land. 34-53. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983. 4...
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