Weather Watch


According to the National Museum of Natural History, “Extinction is the death of all members of a species of plants, animals or other organisms” but there is another type of extinction: cultural extinction, which is all too common.

“Cultural extinction does not necessarily involve genetic extinction or even deaths, but results from the disintegration of a social entity and discontinuation of culture-specific behaviors,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

This is a subject often discussed at our family dinners; my son’s degree is in archeology. The idea that an “old culture” must make way for new culture is an age-old issue. This is not about a younger generation that thinks the older generation doesn’t know what it is talking about – it is much more complicated.

The idea that something is wrong simply because it does not match the dominant society’s culture is often – almost always – what happens when one group invades another. For one group to establish authority over another it must demean and even demonize the conquered society. It would take great foresight and understanding for the dominant culture to look at the past of other cultures and find value; however, that review usually comes centuries after an invasion, if at all.

A prime example of an attempt at cultural extinction can be found in how the culture of indigenous people was dealt with by the United States.

In March 1883, Henry M. Teller of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior sent a letter to Hiram Price of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs that outlined perceived problems among the indigenous tribes of the U.S., according to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He was so concerned about so many things including the practice of dancing and the leadership of medicine men. This prompted Price to write The Code of Indian Offenses, which addressed all of Teller’s concerns and added punishment for these offenses including the withholding of rations, enforcing hard labor, administering fines and incarcerating perceived offenders.

All right, let’s just take a moment to contemplate the fact that the U.S. government felt the need to punish one class of its inhabitants whose crime was following their cultural practices that had been with them since the dawn of time.

This Code of Indian Offenses was in place until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act legalized traditional spirituality and ceremonies, according to the National Library of Medicine.

One of those oh so offensive acts by indigenous peoples was the practice of “good fire” or cultural burn regarding forest canopies and vegetation.

“Two hundred years ago, someone walking through Yosemite would not have seen the densely packed forests we now associate with the Sierra Nevada. They would have passed through broad meadows and perhaps have even been drawn to comment, as the Spanish did, on how the land appeared like a ‘well-tended garden,’” according to an article titled “How the Indigenous Practice of ‘Good Fire’ Can Help Our Forest Thrive” by USC.

What the Spaniards were looking at was how the indigenous people native to Yosemite used fire to promote healthy forests.

“Today, the wisdom of that approach is seen as one of the keys to unraveling the deadly cycle of California wildfires,” according to the article.

“Cultural burns are lower intensity-controlled fires much like the prescribed burns implemented by land managers today. The major difference is that cultural fire was and is still used by tribes as an essential part of culture, to cultivate materials and food essential to centuries-long traditions,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. “The Karuk tribe in the Klamath River Basin, northern California and Oregon, for example, engages in cultural burning as a means to acquire basket weaving material, such as hazel. The hazel plant naturally grows in tangled bushes, making it difficult to weave. However, after a cultural burn the hazel shrub will grow back with straight long shoots ideal for basket weaving.”

Of course, climate change is playing a role in the number of wildfires with an increase in extreme weather conditions; however, bringing back cultural burns allow us to learn what indigenous people have known for a millennium.

With all the wet weather we’ve recently had we may think we are safe from wildfires for a while; however, rain creates a lot of vegetation and summer will bring dry conditions, so wildfires are still very much a part of the California culture.

As of press time on Wednesday, NOAA predicted rain on Wednesday with a chance of thunderstorms. After that and through Tuesday we should see some very mild temps without rain.