Changes in the Land

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William Cronon, Changes in the Land

History 2110

Indians

1. How did the Indians occupy the land?
The northern Indians occupied the land much differently from those who lived in the south. The land was drier in the north, and the soil not as fertile, so agriculture was not a main source of subsistence. All Indians relied greatly on mobility throughout the seasons for survival. Those in the south were able to stay in one place for longer however because of the fertility of the soil and its ability to sustain agricultural needs. The women were mostly in charge of these needs, along with starting fires, making mats for wigwams, and caring for children. The fires, which were also more popular in the south, allowed for secondary succession and revitalized soil with nutrients for new plant life. Their purpose was also to clear the land for hunting and in retrospect, created the unique ecological pattern of the land that allowed for so much succession, creating ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species.

2. How did their “occupation” influence the natural development of the landscape? Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different states of ecological succession. In particular, ‘the edge effect’ enlarged edge areas that actually raised the total herbivorous food supply; they not merely attracted game, but helped create much larger populations of it. The land became more open with fewer weeds, and allowing more sunlight to promote growth. These open areas made hunting easier, sometimes with the intentional planting of shrubs lining a pathway for herds to fall into a trap of a few hundred hunters waiting on the other side.

3. Did the Indians have a concept of land ownership? If so, what was it? What did it mean to own the land for an Indian? Their concept of land ownership is not as well understood because the colonists really never cared what the Indians thought about this subject. It is clear, however, that Indian property rights are only concerned with two distinct issues; those of ownership, and those of sovereignty. That is, the way villagers conceive property amongst others of their own village, and those in villages surrounding. The villages must have accepted and acknowledged rights to territory of the land used during each season or, if not, defended against them. Kinship and personality for the most part, organized power in Indian communities. Insofar as a village owned the land it inhabited, its property was expressed in the sovereignty of the Sachem. Owning land was more of a boundary between villages, anything outside of that territory is not where you belong, however, sachems did sometimes trade something for a small piece of land and in the case of extraordinarily plentiful fishing sites, several villages might gather to share the wealth. So the villages didn’t necessarily own the land, moreover, they owned the things on the land.

4. How did the Indians use the land they occupied?
The Indians used the land very little at a time, taking care to ensure re-growth and living off only what was necessary for survival. Instead of stocking up on meat and plant-life before long winters, they only prepared with the minimum, usually about 20 slabs of meat which did not last them long. The villages moved around constantly instead of settling like the Europeans. Women did most of the work around the village, while the men left camp for several days at a time for the hunt. Controlled fires paved the way for succession. While the English saw this as a waste of fuel, the Indians found it to be the start of new life.

Europeans

1. How did the European Colonists occupy the land?
The social hierarchy of the English class system was reproduced. It was capital that set the Europeans apart from the Indians. They believed in using the land to the fullest and settlement. They felt that the Indians were not...
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