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AN201 - Great Plains Notes.docx

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Wilfrid Laurier University
Byron Williston

Part 2 The Great Plains and Canadian Prairies Culture history – the European contributions to the development of the “bison cultures”. Material culture and social organization; the hunt and warfare; religion. The Region o Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Rockies to Gulf of Mexico o Central basin of North America o Two principle zones: o East  Prairies  River valleys  Mississippi/Missouri/Red river  Higher precipitation  Mixed vegetation o West  Steppe grasslands  Flat sloping plateau to mountains Climate o Mid continental o Cold, long winters o Short, draughty summers o High winds o Cyclonic storms o Precipitation o 41-61cm o Much precipitation is snow o Treeless regions  violent storms Flora o East o Mixed deciduous/coniferous trees o Shrubs o River valleys forested  nut/fruit trees o West o Treeless  Xerophytic o Buffalo grass, thistle, willow Fauna o East  Woodland mammals  White tailed deer, Elk, Muskrat, Black bear, Fox  Freshwater fish  Pike, bass, trout  Migratory birds  Geese, duck  Upland birds  Pheasant, grouse, partridge o West  Mammals  Pronghorn antelope, gopher, elk, hare, bison  Bison characteristics  Large herds – 100,000  20-50 million population  Migrate north in summer, south in winter, disintegrates into smaller groups  Adults weigh up to 1 ton  Short sighted, readily corralled (defense ready for attack)  Prolific breeding  Bison in Plains ecology  Food preference: grama grasses o Short, dense shallow roots o High protein o Drought/grazing resistant o Annual winter/summer cycles depending on Bison Occupation of the Plains o Eastern Peoples o Algonquians, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Cheyenne, Blackfeet o Northwest Forests (Lake Superior) o Southwest Peoples o Utes, Paiutes, Comanches Forces of Change o Horse o Few wild horses captured  horse breeding, horse care o Northern plains Indians poor treatment of horses  High annual mortality o Creation of plains horse nomads o Guns o 18 century o Skills in repairing guns o A gun with 100 rounds = 1 horse th  Until mid 19 century when used as weapon rather then tool  Short bow primary hunting device  Threat of guns to tribal displacements o Trade o European goods in the 18 century  Metal, cloth, guns o Fur trade  extermination of beaver  Later decimation of bison o Trade brought upon monopolies and warfare o Disease o Smallpox, influenza, venereal disease, measles, malaria, o 45% population loss o Nomads – 30-35% o Villagers 70+% The Exploitative Cycle o Winter o Band/Family groups in sheltered winter sites e.g. log cabins o Spring o Move from winter quarters o Summer o Summer assembly o Communal hunting o Sundance, communal hunt, war parties o Fall o Dispersal into band groups Social and Political Structure o Six common features o 1. Tribe  shared language, history, mythology, ritual practices o 2. Bands  Territorial, loosely structured, named by distinctive feature,  Leadership: council of family heads, senior males, war/peace chiefs o 3. Kin groups  Unilineal clans  Crow, Omaha  Bilateral clans  Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne o 4. Men’s associations o 5. Council of Elders  tribal leaders o 6. Summer tribal gatherings  Communal hunts, war raids Bilateral kinship  Relatives on the mother's side and father's side are equally important for emotional ties or for transfer of property or wealth. Bilineal descent means an individual is a member of his mother's matrilineage and his father's patrilineage. Aka 'double descent.' Unilineal  Unilineal descent means links are traced through ancestors of one gender only. o Men’s Associations o Join after vision quest/training period o Some group names: Kit Foxes, Dog Soldiers o Older group  30+ o Activities/Functions:
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