Saturday, August 2, 2014
A Maine Gazetteer: The Wabanaki
In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who is considered to be the father of modern taxonomy and ecology, decided that the principal feature of humans was wisdom, and so named our species. I wonder if he would have been so sanguine 250 years later. Wisdom may be a trait associated with individuals, but I’m hard-pressed to believe it ever applies to the species, at almost any time in history. Certainly in ecology we have no claim to the term: it’s as if we deny our taxonomic (and physical and spiritual) relationship to the rest of the world. In
North America, that relationship did exist, for thousands
of years, but it did not survive the near-extermination of the Native
Americans, who may indeed have been among the world’s few wise peoples.
I define wisdom as the insightful ability to live harmoniously in the world. Humans lived for some 10,000 years in
before the Europeans came. We presume those humans suffered their wars of
territory like any other human for much of that history, we presume they could
be as cruel to their enemies – raping, torturing, killing – as any white man.
Once the Europeans came, we know they did - Mohawks and Iroquois from the west
fought the Maine Wabanaki for trapping and trading territory, the Wabanaki
themselves fought the French and English and Dutch and Spanish and Americans -
but from what we know of the rest of their lives, they seemed incredibly
I’m sure those lives weren’t easy, especially in the harsh winters when starvation sometimes threatened, but in the more temperate seasons the land was blessed with riches suited to both the nomadic and the agricultural life. The last of the glaciers had scoured the land, creating a fresh start for mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, trees and wildlife, and the peoples travelling across the continent fromYou only have to visit the
Asia took full advantage of a beautiful world of pure
water and rich river soils and abundant game. So many of the conservation
values we espouse today are in fact native-people values; shouldn’t we listen?
Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer