The North America we know today is not the same North America that the Native Americans, pre-European contact, knew. The plants were their own separate species, only being linked through miniscule amounts of DNA, and the animals were astoundingly detached from their Eurasian ancestors. However, once the Europeans made first contact with this ‘New World’ of sorts, from the people to the vegetation, major things began to take shape like the world had never seen before. Even though the continents were separated for millions of years and had their own species of plants and animals, today, they are almost identical (312).
What the author, Charles Mann, is most likely trying to convey here in this article is that for millennia, the Native Americans had great influence over this land like no other civilization. They managed the land, they managed the populations of the animals that were near them, and they masterfully managed their crops with little or no fault. This period of equilibrium between nature and humans came to an end when a wave of Old-World diseases hit the Native Americans. It wiped them out better than the Europeans ever could have with guns or war. Not to mention, the stress put on the environment with all the new wildlife and vegetation brought here both knowingly and unknowingly. The plant and animal species that had been harmless in Eurasia for millennia, when brought to the Americas, latched onto the environment and ran an ecological coup d’©tat of the native species and dethroned them as being the central species in many ecosystems around the region (313-314). These species created all sorts of problems for the ecosystems in the Americas such as being without the constraints of natural predators, the environments super-charged them over here as opposed to them being a mild species across the pond, which led to many species becoming out of hand and being on the verge of an ecological meltdown in some places (313).
The Native Americans knew very well how to take care of the physical landscape especially regarding the forests. They knew how to manage the forest through clear-cuts, regular burnings, and replanting the forests that they harvested from. Many of these practices are just now, within the past 50 to 100 years, starting to be taken seriously in the modern Americas. They were masters at coexisting with the land and even subtle in the way they managed what they had (314). It has been widely known for many years that the Native Americans were masters at land management, but I had no idea of the extent of their knowledge. Mostly going off small documentaries and movies, my familiarity with the subject was limited, but this article really opened my eyes to how great they were.
All great things, however, have their flaws. Although the Native Americans were very well adapted to their environments, they still made selfish and some would say harmful decisions to the environment alongside their good ones. According to the article The Artificial Wilderness by Charles Mann, Native Americans, to avoid having their crops flattened by different species, would hunt these species around their homesteads to very little numbers (321). Today, we see this act as harmful to the environment but for them, it was a matter of life and death. Protecting their crops from being destroyed meant that they could live and feed themselves and their communities. If they did not do this, they may not have died, but life would have gone from good to on the verge of collapse. Seeing as how to many Native strongholds, agriculture was the main way to get food and hunting and gathering likely came second to that. This is easy to see because if you consider the masses of people that needed to be fed, hunting and gathering alone would not have gotten the job done. So, in these times, they needed to turn to a more reliable form of food production for large populations.
The Native Americans, though they hunted species to low numbers around their homesteads, they tried to move these animals to another place so that the animals would repopulate somewhere else and not bother them (321). They control the population in their favor, much like the modern hunter does today with the populations of deer, turkey, and hogs along other species to make sure that they do not disrupt the natural balance of the forests. Another example of the Native Americans controlling the population of animals is that they hunted species ardently to decrease the struggle for nuts and berries and other staple foods that they needed for sustenance (317). They were masters of land management and wildlife management and we could stand to stop and learn their techniques and try to apply them to the land and wildlife today.
The environment relied on the Native Americans a great deal. The Native Americans managed the land they lived on through cultivation and forest management and also managed much of the wildlife pertaining to the immediate area and the area surrounding their settlements (314, 317, 321). With their removal from the land through disease and conquest, the environment went into shock and started changing very quickly with very little to stop it. The arrival of the Europeans, and their many diseases, brought an issue that the Americas had not seen in millennia, the overpopulation of certain species such as the bison and elk. The Indians did a fantastic job of keeping these species at bay, but with their disappearance came a load of hardships and troubles for the new inhabitants (321). The Europeans had no idea how to correctly and efficiently hunt animals and keep the populations low and manageable, but instead let the populations get extremely out of control and in many cases, hunted the species to extinction (317).
The Native Americans were a crucial part to the ecological balance of the Americas with the way they controlled and oversaw the land and animals that inhabited the area. Although they made mistakes throughout their reign in this hemisphere, for the most part, they handled themselves exceptionally. When the Europeans came over, they disrupted that harmony and sent the ecosystems into a spiral that left the Native Americans pre-existing hold on the land almost seem non-existent. Through the article, the overarching message that seems to be stated is that humans need to be careful of the abundance that Mother Nature gives us because if we are not careful, we can waste the gift and lose it forever. We need to hunt and consume sparingly, otherwise we will deplete nature of all its generosities.
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