Category Archives: Indigenous Issues

Hodenosaunee (People of the Longhouse)

 

 

The Five Nations (Iroquois) that straddled what eventually became the border between Canada and United States liked to call themselves the Hodenosaunee or People of the Longhouse. Iroquois is the name the French gave to them. Their territory was much larger than that of the Huron, but their population was much smaller. They made up for their smaller numbers with political savvy and a reputation for fierceness. That and their location gave them a critical advantage that came strongly into play when the Indigenous Nations started to form alliances with European powers, for that location gave them control of the major trading routes from the east coast to the interior of North America.

As a result of their larger territory the Iroquois villages were much more spread out than those of their rivals, the Huron. As a result their languages became more distinct as well. Interestingly, while the men cleared the fields for agriculture the women did the farming. Each village had its own cornfield surrounding it. The Hodenosaunee and the tribes of the west coast had the most substantial agricultural systems. Some had some farming however. For example, the Ojibwa or Anishinabe relied on an uncultivated crop—wild rice. They were not as dependent on farming however as ordinary crop farmers. According to Dickason and Newbigging, in their book A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, “Iroquoians grew 80% of their food requirements.”

Each village had its own fledgling democracy as a result of establishing their own councils. These democracies were very influential later on the Founding Fathers of the United States who borrowed from ideas of the Hodenosaunee.  Each nation also had its won council and nation’s council would meet in one of the villages.

I was startled to learn that the leaders were chosen by women! Isn’t that heresy? It was heresy to the Europeans, but not to the Hodenosaunee. Women chose and disbarred the leaders.

Hodenosaunee (Iroquois) society was divided into clans or families similar to nations n the west coast. I wonder how that happened.

The Iroquois formed a Confederacy known as “The Great League of Peace.” A Council of 50 chiefs representing participating tribes governed the League. The League also managed the problem of giving authority to the various tribes. As a result centralization was not perfect. Member tribes often had a significant amount of autonomy. Their aim was to maintain peace and one of the main ways of doing this was through the exchange of condolences and gifts. I am constantly amazed at how often in Indigenous cultures gift giving was important.  The one who gave the most often had the most prestige. Very different from European culture where prestige went to the person who acquired the most. Again this was similar to civilization on the west coast of Canada. I use that word “civilization” advisedly.

Once more this leads me to ask who was more civilized The European invaders or Indigenous People? My point is not that Indigenous people were always better. It simply that it is far from obvious as Europeans believed, that Indigenous People were always inferior.

Hurons

The Huron Confederacy was mainly found in Ontario, as it is now called, between Lake Simcoe and the southeastern corner of Georgian Bay. This was about as far north as agriculture could succeed with Stone Age technology, but the Hurons managed it.  According to Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging in their book A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, “The Huron had about 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) under cultivation.”

It was also said, by Gabriel Sagard,  “In Huronia, it was easier to get lost in a cornfield than in a forest.”  This was not a civilizational backwater, The Huron traded with Indigenous Nations to the north by supplying them with corn, beans, squash, and good old tobacco, in return for furs and hides. Both sides benefited from the trades as it is supposed to work. According to Dickason and Newbigging, “The beauty and bounty of the land were such that when the French first came to their country, the Huron assumed it was because France was poor by comparison.” That might actually have been true. Unfortunately for the Huron, their trading system ultimately disintegrated before the onslaught of European traders. That was not uncommon after contact, but before then trade was very successful. That does not mean there were no conflicts between the Indigenous Nations.

Europeans destroyed much in their haste to impose their own system. They were guests in the country, but that did not stop them from taking over. That was a pity because they had a pretty good system up to then.

Mother Nature Abhors Average

 

 

 

This has been a strange year. In many respects, but certainly from the perspective of a flower child like me.  Any person, like me, who spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing truth and beauty in places of torture—i.e. bogs infested with mosquitos, horseflies, black flies, hornets and worse—has had to deal with fact that this year was not an average year.

The wild flower year started off in spring and early summer with bitter cold. No self-respecting flowers wanted to appear. Can you blame them? That was followed by hot. Again it was so hot that no sane flower would stick its lovely head out. Most flowers were late in making an appearance. To make things even worse, it was dry. In Manitoba until the last couple of days, it was the driest year since records were started to be kept about 150 years ago.  Recently we have been plagued with torrential downpours that point to a deluge. How can wild flowers survive that? Did they?

I went in search of an answer. I wanted to see Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) and Grass Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus). Both of these gorgeous orchids usually appear at the same time. It was late in the summer for both but I thought in this untypical year my chances of finding them were good.

I know one very reliable site for Rose Pogonia a very rare orchid. There were none to be found. Not one. Even though we had massive rains in much of Manitoba recently there was very little water in the fen. That was a dreadful pity. As a result I show you 2 photos from earlier years.

 

After that I drove to the Brokenhead Wetland Interpretative trail near Gull Lake Manitoba. This is the best place for wild orchids in southern Manitoba and one of the best in Canada. It was incredibly hot and humid so I did not want to wear my elaborate and stifling  bog gear. So I went minimalist thinking even mosquitos would hunker down on such a day.  And I was right. Then miraculously, I found them. Diligence paid off.  Most specimens of Grass Pink orchid were spent. There was one fine pair of flowers deep in the fen where I am not supposed to go. That is why we have a boardwalk to keep us pedestrians off. It took supreme moral fibre for me to stay on the boardwalk because I could not photograph  it from there.

A little farther I was amply rewarded for my righteousness. A wonderful specimen right beside the boardwalk. Life was worth living again.

But I have not learned much about the year except the important lesson that Mother Nature abhors average. There is no such thing as  “an average year” in nature. It  just never  happens. Thank goodness.

 

Egalitarian Societies

 

Just like everything else, social development varied widely throughout the Americas. Diversity was the key to everything. That meant that some hunter-gatherer societies continued in the traditional ways. At the same time others picked up and adopted traits from farming communities. As an example, through trade in many areas bothtrading partners gained from the trade and promoted richer societies. As Dickason and Newbigging explained in their book A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, “The way of life of each was richer for their interchange, yet each retained its specific character. Similarly, there were farming peoples who retained the hunting-gathering mode even as some of their neighbours developed into –city-states, and, in one or two cases, empires. And while most Amerindian societies operated on an egalitarian basis, some societies, especially those that were more sedentary and had rich resource base, such as on the west coast, developed complex hierarchies based on kinship.”

Some societies eschewed hierarchies. As Dickason and Newbigging reported, “Egalitarian societies did not separate authority from the group as a whole…In those societies, available resources were open to all, and their leaders used influence rather than force. Free sharing ensured that the superior skills of, say, a hunter benefited the group rather than just the individual hunter.

The power of chiefs depended on their ability to provide for their followers. The leader’s role was to represent the common will. They did not use force and they would have quickly lost their position if they had tried. This lent extreme importance to eloquence, the power to persuade. A chief’s authority was ‘in his tongue’s end;’ for he was powerful in so far as he is eloquent. Failure in this regard meant loss of position. Among the Mi’kmaq, a chief could attract followers, but they were not subordinated to their leader’s will, except perhaps in time of war. Even in warfare however, among many groups the individual was essentially his own leader. Perhaps most important of all, chiefs were expected to set an example for their people, in particular by being generous. Instead of gaining wealth through their positions, they could end up the poorest of the group because of the continual demands made upon their resources. ”

Donald Trump would not have stood a chance of becoming a leader. Now who is civilized again?  I wish someone would explain to me again why I should think Europeans were less savage, more civilized, or more superior than indigenous people.

In addition to having established leaders, some individuals were selected because of their particular skills or spiritual powers. They were chosen by consensus. For example, leaders of a buffalo hunt might be chosen that way. Or for a raid. Or for gathering food.

Some groups like the Anishinabek (Anishinabe or Ojibwa) of the Great Lakes region maintained both hereditary chiefs as well as chiefs chosen by consensus. This system often worked surprisingly well. Certainly the European system was no clear improvement.

As Dickason and Newbigging said, “The general lack of quarreling or interpersonal conflicts in Amerindian communities impressed Europeans, who wondered how peaceful relations could prevail without the threat of force in the background.” That does not mean things were perfect. They had problems of leadership just like Europeans did.

According to Dickason and Newbigging chiefdoms only developed in the Northwest Coast of Canada (as it is now called) did.  Only there did the Indigenous people have “clearly marked class divisions between chiefs, nobles, and commoners based on wealth and heredity.”

In some respect the Indigenous people of the Americas had superior political systems than the Europeans to whom they were presumed inferior.  That does not mean they were perfect or better in all respects. But Europeans could have learned things from them if they had been inclined to listen and check their prejudice.  Sometimes it really is difficult to find much superiority in the invaders of the New World.

Farming in the New World

 

At the time of first contact between Indigenous peoples in North America about AD 1,000 most of the people in the New World were hunter-gatherers, but they were just starting to use a new technology—farming.

As Dickason and Newbigging explained in their wonderful book A Conservative History of Canada’s First Nations, “Agriculture seems to have developed independently, within a span of few years at the end of the last Ice Age, in several widely separated regions of the globe: the Near East, the monsoon lands of Southeast Asia, China, Mesoamerica, Peru, and the Amazon.” The reasons are not yet clear, but an increase in the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide that occurred about 15,000 years ago may have played a role in this important development.  This increase made photosynthesis more robust and increased the growth rate in plants and this might have triggered the emergence of farming around the world. I think it is significant that this important achievement was widely shared.

It did not start in all areas however. Logically, farming developed first in warmer areas where the great variety of plants made experimentation more viable. From those areas the farming skills spread out across the continents. “New World domesticated plants that made the largest contribution to world agriculture were all of undisputed American origin, developed by Amerindian[1]farmers. Corn (maize) and potatoes were the best known, although tomatoes, peanuts, pineapples, and cacao (from which chocolate is made) are not far behind. Amerindians originally grew more than a hundred species of plants that are still farmed today. Amerindians grew the most famous of all Amerindian crops, tobacco, for diplomatic, ritual, and some medical uses.”

In the Northeastern part of what came be called North America agriculture was introduced with the cultivation of squash at about 4,300 BP probably as a result of trading from the south. The first plant that was local to the northeast that was cultivated was probably sunflower in about 3,000 BP. This should make Mennonites happy. Knackzoot came first!  When the Huron in the Great Lakes region first contacted Europeans they were already growing 17 varieties of maize and 8 types of squash. As well they gathered more than 30 varieties of wild fruit and 10 kinds of nuts. Corn was the first cultivated crop to reach southern Ontario in about AD 500. For 500 years it was the only crop raised there. Tobacco showed up about AD 1,000. When squash arrived in about the 1300s this completed the famous triad of the 3 Sisters—Beans, Squash, and Maize. By the 16th  century the 3 Sisters were being grown around the western continent.

The technology behind the 3 sisters was amazing and showed how smart the Indigenous people of the Americans were. “As crops, the three sisters benefitted the soil when grown together: beans capture nitrogen in the air and release it into the soil; squash roots are extensive and help prevent soil erosion; and the tall corn stalks provide the other plants with some protection from hail, damaging wind; and excessive sunlight. This gave the ‘three sisters’ a sustainability and permanence lacking in modern agriculture. As food they reinforced each other nutritionally when combined in diets.”

Of course the switch to agriculture was not entirely an unmixed blessing. Wendell Berry called it the worst disaster ever! For example the over reliance on starchy foods has led to nasty dental problems. Even worse, agriculture has led to some of the monstrosities of modern industrial agriculture.

[1]“Amerindians” is the expression that Dickason and Newbigging settled upon to describe Native Americans (of both western hemispheres)

Pueblo Bonito in the Chaco

 

Time was important to the people at Chaco. Again, this is not that different from the Maya who were obsessed with time. It is was extremely useful to the people of Chaco to determine when they should gather seeds and plant crops. They also used it to decide when certain ceremonies should happen.  As Robbie Robertson, the narrator of Native America said, “At the very center of Chaco, builders built a sacred space to unify time and place. Pueblo Bonito. It is the largest of the city’s 12 great houses with over 800 rooms and 30 ceremonial kivas.”

G.B. Cornucopia, a Park Ranger at the Chaco Culture National Park, said the structure could be interpreted as a large storage facility or a ceremonial center or as a clock! “To GB Cornucopia Pueblo Bonito and the sky are intricately linked The Great House is aligned to the 6 directions. One wall runs east-west and another north-south. Each day as the sun gets higher in the sky its shadow creeps closer to the north-south wall.” As Cornucopia pointed out, at solar noon when the sun is at its highest point in the sky is directly on the wall.

Pueblo Bonito is a clock that tracks the sun during the day. It’s also a calendar that tracks it during the year. Every day the sun sets on a different place on the horizon. The solar year starts out on the winter solstice when it sets in the south. On the summer solstice it sets in the north the two days half way in between are called equinoxes. And today on the fall equinox the suns lines up with the east-west wall. The north wall tracks the day; the west wall tracks the year. Built to the 6 directions Pueblo Bonito unites place and time.”

People naturally tell time by their relationship with the sky. Most of us have forgotten this because we have innumerable devices that tell us what the time. Devices such as watches, computers, and smart phones. Before the ages of these devices people would look at markers on the horizon and the place of the sun in relationship to those markers and they could tell the time and the season.

Native American people like those who lived at Chaco, looked at the sky to tell them when to plant and when to harvest. They also looked at the sky to determine when their various ceremonies ought to take place. This gave it spiritual significance. “Their city is the physical embodiment of their world view. It is a way of living that is both scientific understanding of the cycles of the earth, sun, and the stars and a spiritual quest to find their place within it.” In my view that is what religion is all about. It is a means of healing the alienation we feel towards the world, and replacing that feeling with a feeling of connection to the world. That is what finding our place within that world means. It tells us how we are connected and that we are not alienated or severed from that world.

It is of great interest to me that this belief is found in so many different spiritual belief systems. So many belief systems fundamentally seem to have the same beliefs. I think that shows how we are all one.

 

Native America

 

I thought I should let people know where I am headed with series of blog posts about Native Americans. I probably should have done that sooner. I hope some of you are interested in the subject. I think it is important. In fact it is one of the most important issues and is complicated by the great variety of Indigenous groups and the long a complicated history between colonizers and colonized.

The more I learn about Native Americans the more I am surprised by them. By Native Americans I mean the people of North, Central, and South America that lived in what we call the Western Hemisphere and they call Turtle Island when the Europeans officially arrived in 1492. Like Europeans, there were an astonishing variety of peoples in the Americas. They did not think and act alike anymore than humans from Europe, Asia or Africa did. Diversity is the most important key to understanding Indigenous people. And that diversity is their greatest asset.

We can learn a lot from them. But to do that we have to ditch our inbred sense of superiority. We  have to look at them without bias and with empathy. If we can to that we will be blessed.

I want to look at some specific Indigenous groups, both Canadian and American from a historical perspective before contact with Europeans and then look at the effects of European colonization and finally some modern issues. Of courses, as always I will be meandering and even switch to other topics as I see fit.

I hope some of you accompany on these meanderings.

 

Pueblo Traditions

I am still exploring what the Americas are like before Europeans arrived. Until fairly recently we did not know much about those societies. Partly that was because by and large the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas (North and South) often did not keep written records.  And partly that was because the Europeans and their descendants believed they had nothing useful to learn from Indigenous People. This is part of what I have called the original sin. This attitude had a profound effect on subsequent relations between the Europeans and their descendants and the Indigenous people. Attitudes of superiority stood in the way of learning of Indigenous people and as I am trying to show, there was much of value to be learned from the Indigenous people. They had lived in the Americas for thousands of years and had gain vast important knowledge about how to live there. had Europeans not been so blinded by feelings of superiority things could have been very different.

There are about 20 tribes of Pueblo people in the American southwest. They include, among others, the Zuni and Hopi in Arizona . Pueblo people share many (but not all) religious beliefs but have different languages. Most modern Pueblo tribes trace their ancestry to the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the American Southwest.

Pueblo traditions are different from some Christian traditions. Their traditions tell the Pueblo people that they must honor Mother Earth by taking care of her. Would you not take care of your ultimate reference? In the film series Native Americaa a Hopi woman who was not shown, recounted in Hopi the following myth (and I use this word carefully not to reference something that is not true, but rather something that is important, very important):

 

“Massaw told us this world is a gift to us

And we must care for this place

He said, ‘To find your home you must find the center place,’

So we made a covenant to walk to the world’s farthest corners

To learn the earth with our feet

And to become one with this new world

And to find our center place”

 

In the origin story of the Pueblo people they were given a sacred quest after they emerged from the earth. They were told to find the center place. Some went clockwise and some counter clockwise. They built an image in the rock to show where they were. It was a spiral around a center spot. “Finding the right place–the center place–lies at the heart of Pueblo belief. It is more than a physical location. It is about living in balance with the natural world.”

For example, as Robbie Robertson said in the television series,  “The search for the center place is built right in to the kivas.  Every kiva is aligned to the 4 compass directions.” Of course there are 2 more sacred directions, namely up and down. When the people climb out of a ladder in a kiva it is symbolic of their journey where they emerged from the earth. The Hopi believe the 6 directions give the Kivas great power.

I believe that this belief played an important role in life of ancient people in the America southwest (and elsewhere). At the same time, the fact that it was largely ignored by Europeans when they arrived was also important. Things could have been different.

Tohono O’odham/Hohokam

 

San Tan Mountain Regional Park on the edge of Tohono O’odham territory

According to their own website Hohokam origins are linked to their homeland in the Sonoran Desert. Thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the Hohokam, settled along the Salt, Gila, and Santa Cruz Rivers in southern Arizona.

In the 1990s, archaeologists identified a culture and people that were ancestors of the Hohokam. They grew corn and lived sedentary lives in villages all year round. It is now believed that they might have occupied the territory now known as Arizona as early 2000 BC! They originated as archaic hunters and gatherers who lived on wild plants and animals, and eventually settled in permanent communities and produced their own food instead of living a more mobile life and gathering what nature provided.

The Hohokam culture included  an astonishing skill to build very sophisticated water storage systems and irrigation systems to water their crops.

The Hohokam were master dwellers of the desert, creating sophisticated canal systems to irrigate their crops of cotton, tobacco, corn, beans, and squash. They built vast ball courts and huge ceremonial mounds and left behind fine red-on-buff pottery and exquisite jewellery of stone, shell, and clay.

Following their ancestral heritage, they became what they call “scientists of our environment.”  Like other nations in the Americas they used and continue to use meteorological principles to establish planting, harvesting, ceremonial cycles and they developed complex water storage and delivery systems. Those principles also continue to have spiritual resonance.

They learned to make the best of their environment, migrating with the seasons from their homes in the valleys to cooler mountain dwellings. Over time they learned to raise a wide variety of crops including tepary beans, squash, melon, and sugar cane. They also gathered wild plants such as saguaro fruit, cholla buds, and mesquite bean pods, and we hunted for only the meat that they needed from the plentiful wildlife, including deer, rabbit, and javelina. They continue to live this proud heritage today as 21st century Tohono O’odham.

The Hohokam were the only culture in North America to rely on irrigation canals to supply water to their crops. In the arid desert environment of the Salt and Gila River Valleys, the homeland of the Hohokam, there was not enough rainfall to grow crops. To meet their needs, the Hohokam engineered the largest and most sophisticated irrigation system in the Americas.

The canals were perfectly laid out on the landscape to achieve a downhill drop (or gradient) of 1 to 2 feet per mile. Many of the canals were massive in size. The Arizona Museum of Natural History discovered a prehistoric canal in the Phoenix Valley that measured 15 feet deep and 45 feet wide. As a result of irrigating up to 110,000 acres by AD 1300, the Hohokam irrigation systems supported the largest population in the prehistoric Southwest, and until I came to visit Arizona I had never heard of them before. My ignorance was profound.

The Hohokam traded goods widely across the American Southwest and even into Mesoamerica (what is now called Mexico).  The Hohokam produced cotton and woven goods that were highly desired by other Indigenous nation Hohokam cotton and woven goods from which they made things like blankets could be traded for very good prices

There continues to be a significant and thriving O’odham population living in the region. The members of the Salt and Gila River communities celebrate their heritage as descendants of the ancient Hohokam.

 

When we are in the San Tan Valley we often go to San Tan Mountain Regional Park for hikes and outings.  Although not in Maricopa County it is administered by them as part of that marvellous County Park system, the finest in the United States, they claim.  It is beautiful country and it is on the edge of current territory of the O’odham nation and inside the historic territory of the Hohokam Nation. All who go there should respect that.

Decline of Hohokam

 

The remnants of the Great House at Casa Grande

For reasons that are subject to debate, during the period of 1400 to 1500 A.D. large community centers  of the Hohokam were abandoned, as were many canals. The people did not die out, they moved instead to smaller villages. They adapted to some changed conditions in other words. What really interests me is why this occurred. It is one of the genuine mysteries of North American archaeology. I believe it has continuing important significance for our modern societies. There are lessons for us to learn here. Will we learn them?

When Spanish missionaries arrived at the end of the 17thcentury they found only an empty shell of the once flourishing village of Casa Grande (as the Spanish called it). Over the next two centuries, many visitors visited the site and damaged it over and over again.  In the late 1800s scientists pressed for its formal protection and in 1892 Casa Grande Ruins National Monument became America’s first archaeological reserve. To this day, the Great House keeps the secrets of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert within its protected walls.

At one time 2,000 people lived in Casa Grande and it had the most extensive canal system in North America, if not the world. It required an amazing amount of human labor and engineering to create the Great House, the remnants of which we saw in the park.

The main building material was caliche (cu-LEE-chee), a concrete like mixture of sand, clay, and calcium carbonate (limestone). It took 3,000 tons of caliche to build the Great House.

Caliche mud (water was added to the caliche) was layered to form walls that were about 4 ft. thick at the base, tapering toward the top. Hundreds of juniper, and fir trees were carried or floated down the Gila River to the village. Timbers were anchored in the wall for ceiling and floor supports.

Caliche is found as hard pan in most areas at depths of 6 inches to 2 feet. It is hard like concrete. I often saw it on my hikes in San Tan Mountain Regional Park, about 10minutes from where we lived for the winter.  It can be softened in water, however, and that is why the ancestral people created mud with the addition of water to the caliche. That was stacked on to the buildings and then allowed to dry to a very hard material.

How civilized were the Hohokam? There is no evidence that the ancestral people invented the wheel. Since they had no draft animals, and since usually the rivers did not flow to their agricultural lands, they had to carry all of their building materials.

Since 3,000 tons (6 million pounds) of materials were needed for the construction of the Great House, that meant that 100,000 bags each with about 60 pounds of mud had to be carried up to the Great House.

The Great House consisted of a 4-storey structure on a mound of about 4 feet. The mound was used for the same reason that judges sit on a high bench and preachers stand above the congregation at their pulpit. It is a sign of prestige to be high up. The Administrators of the region likely wanted to be seen to possess authority. The first floor of the Great House consisted of a mound or platform. It was there solely for purposes of building it up so it looked more impressive.

The second floor contained 5 rooms as did the 3rdfloor. The 4thfloor consisted of just one room.  As a result timbers from the mountain trees had to be brought in by hand. It is likely that the ancestral people subcontracted the job by trading for such materials. 640 logs were needed for the Great House construction. The timbers came from about 50-75 miles away. Arduous hauling was needed to get them to the site.

The roof was made by spreading saguaro ribs across the beams with reeds covering them, and then topped with a final layer of caliche mud. Despite centuries of weathering and neglect the Great House remnants still stand testifying to the nature of the society of Ancestral People. In recent years the canopy was built to protect the Great House. The doors of the Great House were quite small, not because the people were so small, but to keep out warm air.

Like so many Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Hohokam were careful to align their structures with celestial bodies. They did that, I think, to connect to the large world “out there.” The Great House at Case Grande was carefully aligned with the sun. But that was not all. In fact 17 different astronomical observations could be made from the house.  First of all, the house was carefully aligned between North and South.

There was also a round hole “window” that once each year lined up perfectly with the sun on the day of the summer solstice. Another rectangular hole carefully marked the spring and fall equinoxes. As well one square window lined up with the Lunar Standstill that occurred every 18.6 years. No one is sure exactly why these alignments were produced, but they do show the sophisticated knowledge of astronomy that the Ancestral People had.

These odd alignments are all part of the mystery about the purpose behind the Great House.  It took an astonishing amount of human labor to create the house, but it was abandoned within about 75 years, even though the Ancestral People inhabited the area for more than 1,000 years. According to Rose Houk,

“Modern archeologists have observed such an alignment of the sun through a “window” in an upper room of Casa Grande, marking the summer solstice. They have suggested that the “great house” may have been used as an astronomical observatory, one of several ideas about this enigmatic, imposing structure that stands out in the desert of central Arizona. Others have seen the four-story building as a fort, a granary, or a silo.  Whatever the truth, the Casa Grande’s significance was recognized early on when it became the nation’s first archaeological preserve in 1892.”

A steel and concrete canopy was built in 1932 to protect the Great House from the elements.

As I mentioned the great puzzle is why were these magnificent structures and elaborate towns abandoned in favor of smaller communities after about 1450 A.D.?  Some have speculated that some catastrophe caused the people to leave. There is evidence that the area experienced significant floods between 1300 and 1450.  Those were followed by intense periods of drought.

Archeologists use multiple kinds of evidence to answer such questions, or at least shed some light on the questions posed. As a result they have been studying salt discharge on the Salt and Gila rivers, as well as the increasing soil salinity, diseases, and evidence of malnutrition. It is likely that environmental conditions changed and the Hohokam people do what all smart people do, they adapted to changed conditions. That is how people survive.

The evidence does show that the extreme flooding deepened the Gila River Channel making it more difficult for canals to carry water to fields where water levels were low. Part of the canal system was abandoned while other parts were extended miles upstream to maintain proper water flows. Around 1350 A.D., the time of the Great House, a combination of factors may have triggered a breakdown of Hohokam society and undermined their leadership.

It is probable that as a result of all of these factors, the survivors of the floods and droughts abandoned large sites like Casa Grande in favor of smaller settlements along the Gila River. Today’s O’odham people (as they are now called) believe that they are the descendants of the Hohokam people. As a result, Hohokam society never disappeared it just adapted and changed to a lifestyle that was better suited to the changed conditions. This change was likely to one more similar to their ancestors. They changed to a simpler life. Perhaps that is what we will be compelled to do.Yet as so often is the case the abandonment was likely triggered at least in part by environmental factors. Often people over do it and the land can no longer sustain the people. This has happened countless times in the Americas. To me it looks like it is happening again, but this time on a much grander scale. Large parts of the world and vast numbers of species are being degraded by human activities. This lesson seems so hard for Homo sapiens to grasp. Why is that?