Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Farmers

In 1832, Anglican missionary William Cockran tried to convert Red River Natives to Christianity and a life of farming. The plan failed. Cockran concluded that Natives were ill-suited for farming. Today, archeological investigations have proved the Anglican missionary to have been wrong.
What they were wrong about was assuming (not for the first time, nor the last) that the aboriginal populations, since they were not currently farming, had never farmed. They were wrong...
Several thousand years before the arrival of European immigrants, many Native nations in North America had developed sophisticated farming methods. Four centuries before Europeans settled beside the Red River, Native people were agricultural pioneers in the valley.
The skills of these early farmers are attested to by recent archeological evidence...
The Native farmers...developed a strain of corn that could mature in the typical 100-day growing season near the present-day Canadian border with the United States Midwest. The adaptation of corn to the long-day, short-season environment of the Red River Valley - from the plant's original short-day, long-season climate in Central America - testifies to the selective plant breeding skills of these first farmers.
So what happened to the farming skills of the natives? Why didn't early European explorers observe farming being practiced by the natives they encountered?
500 years ago, during the so-called Little Ice Age, summers became much shorter and cooler. With this climatic change, the pendulum swung back to hunting, fishing and food-gathering as the primary ways to survive. The skills of agriculture fell into disuse and were virtually forgotten.
From Red River - First Farmers