A thought about Red Indians

Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than a century ago will be relocated to a Montana Native American reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the United States and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

Is that actually true though? This is one of those things that I just don’t know and I have a feeling that going and looking it up would lead to rather a lot of propaganda and not much clarity.

OK, Plains Indians. Definitely there when the Whites started pushing West. There when Lewis and Clark went out 50 odd years earlier. But were they there 300 years before that?

The Plains technology of the time, when the whites got there, depended upon the horse. But the native American horse had been extinct for 10,000 years. Those mustangs and all were descendants of horses that escaped from the Spanish, further South and perhaps also right over on the West Coast. And thus there just weren’t any pre-1500.

Yes, there were very definitely Indians around, settled agricultural communities in the South, fishing and shellfish based ones on the West Coast, farming ones in Nevada, Arizona etc, people all over the East Coast. But out on the plains? Were there really foot based (the largest pack animal was the dog) tribes trying to live off the buffalo out on the plains?

I don’t know and I could imagine it either way. The horse provided the technology to be able to exploit that ecological niche. Or perhaps there really were people doing it on foot. Thing is, does anyone know?

A related question: have there been extensive DNA studies of the different tribes? Do we have a family tree of who split off from whom and when? We are, after all, pretty sure that there was just the one irruption through Alaska (may have been more, but we think only one survived) so it would be rather like that irruption of the Germanic tribes into Europe, sorting themselves out into Lombards, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks, Angles and Saxons and so on. Bit earlier to be sure but……has this ever been done?

30 thoughts on “A thought about Red Indians”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    There were groups that lived on the Great Plains before they acquired horses. The Blackfoot claim to be such a group. Of course the first thing they did when they got horses was push a lot of other people off the Great Plains. To cite Wikipedia:

    Due to language and cultural patterns, anthropologists believe the Niitsitapi did not originate in the Great Plains of the Midwest North America, but migrated from the upper Northeastern part of the country. They coalesced as a group while living in the forests of what is now the Northeastern United States. They were mostly located around the modern-day border between Canada and the state of Maine. By 1200, the Niitsitapi were moving in search of more land.[citation needed] They moved west and settled for a while north of the Great Lakes in present-day Canada, but had to compete for resources with existing tribes. They left the Great Lakes area and kept moving west.[8]

    When they moved, they usually packed their belongings on an A-shaped sled called a travois. The travois was designed for transport over dry land.[9] The Blackfoot had relied on dogs to pull the travois; they did not acquire horses until the 18th century. From the Great Lakes area, they continued to move west and eventually settled in the Great Plains.
    ….
    Adopting the use of the horse, the Niitsitapi established themselves as one of the most powerful Indian tribes on the Plains in the late 18th century, earning themselves the name “The Lords of the Plains.”[11] Niitsitapi stories trace their residence and possession of their plains territory to “time immemorial.”

    Notice that [citation needed] and the last sentence.

    Before the horse they hunted buffalo by sneaking up on them dressed in a buffalo skin (A bit risky if you ask me – someone might recognise their Uncle Frank) and then attacking them with a spear or a bow and arrow (open insanity, obviously). And of course the environmentally sensitive buffalo jump

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_jump

    The Blackfoot Indians called the buffalo jumps “pishkun”, which loosely translates as “deep blood kettle”. This type of hunting was a communal event which occurred as early as 12,000 years ago and lasted until at least 1500 CE, around the time of the introduction of horses.

    So someone was doing it for a long time. I doubt it was the Blackfoot though.

  2. Deariemie, having played a bit of ‘Far Cry:Primal’ this morning I can attest that mammoths are a PITA to hunt. Until you tame the sabretooth, that is…

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    A related question: have there been extensive DNA studies of the different tribes? Do we have a family tree of who split off from whom and when?

    Oh come on. We know that DNA is a Western patriarchal logocentric fantasy. It cannot provide any information at all as we are all the same under the skin. We have identical DNA or at least what variation exists is much greater within groups than between groups and so any conclusions are meaningless.

    So the people who are trying to reach conclusions are utterly deluding themselves:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genographic_Project

    If not outright racists:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlement_of_the_Americas#Source_populations

    Fight the power, I say.

  4. P.S. Lewis and Clark were no doubt important in US history but American accounts of them rather overlook the fact that the Spanish had crossed the continent further south and the British, specifically MacKenzie, further north.

  5. Aha! Of course. It’s ‘genetic purity’, beloved in animals, frown on in people in the pages of the ‘Guardian’:

    “Brucellosis, the disease found in Yellowstone’s bison herds, is absent from Canada’s Elk Island, according to the park’s superintendent, Stephen Flemming.

    “The difficulty [with Yellowstone bison] is the stigma attached to them. In this case, the animals [coming from Canada] have never been exposed to brucellosis,” said Keith Aune of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has been working with the Blackfeet on their bison programme.”

  6. Examinations of middens at pre-Colombian Native American settlements show little sign of bison remains. In fact, there isn’t much evidence the were even the large herds of the animals to provide the bones.
    Before the arrival of Europeans, N America sustained large & complex agricultural communities. The diseases they brought, to which the locals had little immunity, killed more than 90% them. The America the settlers explored was a land devastated by economic collapse, it’s managed environment gone wild.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    JuliaM – “Aha! Of course. It’s ‘genetic purity’, beloved in animals, frown on in people in the pages of the ‘Guardian’”

    Brucellosis is a disease but it is not a genetic disease. So it isn’t about genetic purity. I thought it was, but I have seen no evidence of it. Most bison in the US are of mixed bison-cow origin. Which is to say they are not bison.

    Brucellosis is easily transmitted to other animals – and to humans. Usually through the consumption of milk, cheese or undercooked meat. So it makes sense for people to try to avoid it.

    Compare it with the British government’s refusal to vaccinate against foot and mouth. The vaccine for f&m triggers tests for the disease. So the British government will not allow it in the UK nor will it allow imported animals that have been vaccinated. That is, they exclude the vast majority of beef competition from the British market. Nice for the farmers.

  8. SMFS – then what’s to stop these animals developing the disease? Especially since they’ll have no resistance!

    It’s insane.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    bloke in spain – “Examinations of middens at pre-Colombian Native American settlements show little sign of bison remains. In fact, there isn’t much evidence the were even the large herds of the animals to provide the bones.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olsen-Chubbuck_Bison_Kill_Site

    The Olsen-Chubbuck Bison kill site is located 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Kit Carson, Colorado. The Paleo-Indian site dates back to an estimated 8000-6500 B.C. and provides evidence for bison hunting long before the use of the bow and arrow or horses.[1] …. The site contains a bone-bed of almost 200 bison that were killed and processed by Paleo-Indian hunters.

    “The America the settlers explored was a land devastated by economic collapse, it’s managed environment gone wild.”

    Allegedly. Charles C. Mann argues in 1491 that there is not a lot of evidence of buffalo before disease killed off a significant percentage of the NA population.

  10. P.S. Lewis and Clark were no doubt important in US history but American accounts of them rather overlook the fact that the Spanish had crossed the continent further south and the British, specifically MacKenzie, further north.

    The Lewis and Clark expedition is so well regarded in part because they did such a phenomenal job of recording it.

  11. “then what’s to stop these animals developing the disease? Especially since they’ll have no resistance!”

    Disease is a social construct.

  12. Julia: brucellosis is sexually transmitted so that the newcomers will have to be kept segregated from the Yellowstone bison. Unlike viral infections for which longlasting immunity can be conferred by once off vaccination, brucella is bacterial and vaccination must be repeated annually to keep up immunity, possible with domestic cattle, almost impossible with wild animals.

  13. So Much For Subtlety

    Ljh – “brucellosis is sexually transmitted so that the newcomers will have to be kept segregated from the Yellowstone bison.”

    Given its common name of Maltese fever, I am looking at the population of Malta is a whole new way.

    “almost impossible with wild animals.”

    They may try isolation. Keep domestic cows out. There is unlikely to be much communication with other bison groups.

    Getting them from Canada suggests to me that they have hunting in mind. Consumption of the meat anyway. They may have other reasons but it the one that occurs to me. So they must have a plan.

  14. What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison….?

    You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.

  15. Bloke in Germany in the Peoples Democratic Republic of South Yorkshire

    Of course Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Everything Else SMFS knows. Because they’re wogs they can’t have been doing anything.

    At least he’s moved to citing irrelevant passages from wikipedia, as opposed to merely plagiarising it.

  16. “The Lewis and Clark expedition is so well regarded in part ….” because it is pressed into service as part of the greater foundation mythology. Why, they were sent west by St Thomas Jefferson, no less.

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany in the Peoples Democratic Republic of South Yorkshire

    So Outraged of Tunbridge Wells is outraged by a joke? Which he didn’t get.

    Thanks for sharing BiG. What would we do without you?

  18. “Aha! Of course. It’s ‘genetic purity’, beloved in animals, frown on in people in the pages of the ‘Guardian’”

    Yes, they’re very keen on ‘native species’ of trees and plants too, over ‘foreign invaders’. Humans, not so much………..

  19. “Yes, they’re very keen on ‘native species’ of trees and plants too, over ‘foreign invaders’. Humans, not so much………..”

    The Grey Squirrel’s biggest error is being American. I know someone who has an insane hatred of them, and the thing most mentioned is that they are Anerican.

    Personally I always thought the campaign for the Red a Squirrel was a Freudian protest against mass immigration.

  20. So Much For Subtlety

    Rob – “Personally I always thought the campaign for the Red a Squirrel was a Freudian protest against mass immigration.”

    Either you support biodiversity or you don’t. I do. We should do more to protect the red squirrel. So hug a pine martin today. It is not that I dislike grey squirrels. As long as they are in America.

    Logically we should do more to preserve the bio-diversity of the human race too. It takes a great deal of self loathing to think otherwise.

  21. The great historian of British woodland, Oliver Rackham, suspected that the red squirrel was an import too.

    We lived in Oz when the Nazi/Greens wanted to preserve racial purity among Australian ducks and were calling for a huge holocaust against Ozzie/European crossbreeds. Could you make it up? Go on, could you?

  22. So Much For Subtlety

    dearieme – “The great historian of British woodland, Oliver Rackham, suspected that the red squirrel was an import too.”

    Roman Fast Food strikes again? If it turns out to be an import I will stop demanding it be saved on biological grounds. Cultural grounds are enough. Rabbits are certainly an import and are not the problem in the UK they are in Australia. I don’t mind if people hunt them. The most interesting example is the Italian porcupine. The Romans are said to have introduced them to eat.

    “We lived in Oz when the Nazi/Greens wanted to preserve racial purity among Australian ducks and were calling for a huge holocaust against Ozzie/European crossbreeds. Could you make it up? Go on, could you?”

    What is odd about that? If you want to preserve the species, you need to prevent genetic pollution. It is probably a lost cause as far as ducks go but the principle is not unreasonable.

  23. The Indians were probably only replacing the megafauna the Indians wiped out.
    Buffalo jumps show multiple layers of mass killings, in each case only the top of the layer showing signs of butchery. And still the buffalo thrived.
    This being the US the prehistory has been intensively studied. Probably only the US South West and certain ME civilisations more so.

  24. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany – “Do you hug squirrels a lot, SMFS?”

    Do you seriously think your comments are adding anything?

    Gamecock – “Those who don’t hate grey squirrels haven’t had one in their attic. Yet.”

    I keep ’em in my basement. Along with a lot of little whips and chains. I call it Family Values Austrian Style.

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