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The Earth's Blanket: Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living (Culture, Place, and Nature) Paperback – January 22, 2008
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"The Earth's Blanket is an excellent distillation of traditional teachings and narratives. This thoroughly researched book provides the necessary framework for identifying a resource management grounded in cultural traditions and wisdom and is capable of achieving a sustainable agro-ecology."―Agricultural History
"A unique and charming book that provides fascinating insights into ways of managing wild plant and animal resources. Drawing on stories and early accounts from Native people throughout northwestern North America and, above all, her own enormously rich and detailed experiences, Nancy Turner shows that these methods have great and increasing relevance for us today."―Eugene Anderson, University of California, Riverside
"Nancy Turner has worked with and been befriended by generations of holders of our traditional teachings, and this book is a testament not only to an outstanding career but also to an outstanding human being. The Earth's Blanket demonstrates how science can be used to record Traditional Ecological Knowledge in a way that respects First Nations' cultures."―Kim Recalma―Clutesi, Elected Chief, Qualicum First Nation
"This wonderful book celebrates the connection between pepople and the land, revealing that the cultures of the world are unique and inspired expressions of the human imagination."―Wade Davis, author of Light at the Edge of the World
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-P. Joshua Griffin, University of Washington
I had hoped to use this text as a resource for a class in environmental ethics--it is unusable in that context. The author has so identified with the target people that she turns a blind eye to very obvious problems with various native practices. For example, if these "traditional practices" are so winsome and attractive, why is it that so few Natives themselves employ them? Why is it that most tribes and peoples have, in fact, swung the other way into large capitalistic ventures or have completely adopted casinos as THE paradigm for tribal success? I certainly don't begrudge tribes from making money by engaging in the capitalistic free market of gambling (no one is forcing whites to throw their money away!), but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that these "traditional teachings" are anything but romantic remnants of peoples long since gone. Turner not only turns a blind eye to this problem but she reserves all her critical acumen for the dominant white culture.
For example, on page 43, Turner actually makes the comment that "it is difficult for those of us from western, urbanized society to really understand the concept of a mountain being sacred or to feel what that means." This statement shows a remarkable ignorance of both the literature on geographical sacrality or even common sense. Talk to loggers about the mountains; talk to fishermen about rivers; listen to what baby boomers say about vacation spots they visited in their youths; the language you hear and the concepts they express are remarkably similar to that expressed by "traditionalist" peoples. Places are sacred to all of us. ALL humans are, by nature, responders and story-tellers of sacrality. Just because the narratives are not fashioned with chipmunks or coyotes as the heroes does not mean that those of us who dwell in "westernized" society have any difficulty associating places with sacredness. How many of us remember where we proposed to our spouses? Where loved ones died? Why all those crosses alongside the roads that mark the tragic deaths of loved ones? All these come from the very HUMAN desire to take hold of the sacred.
Turner also becomes annoying in her constant odes to everything Native, in each and every instance fawning over Native stories. She has no problems labeling a rather simple story of origins "spellbinding," even though it resembles similar stories from various fairy tales and myths from many traditions (p. 45, and see pp. 47ff as well).
So, if this book is more novella than objective treatise, then why does she constantly inject nearly unprounceable native words into stories? In stories about plants or animals she constantly uses the Latin names after the common name; and when talking about Native peoples, she used phoenetic Native spelling after the common. Whether it is the western habit of objectification (using the very western Latin scientific names) or the (eastern?) habit of interjecting "traditional" spellings of peoples, animals, and places, the end result is the same: rendering the book nearly unreadable at times, even at the basic, novella-type level. Thus, the book fails at both the academic and the laypeople genre.
Part of the problem seems to stem from some notion of liberal guilt (see Eugene Hunn's fawning treatment of the Yakamas), in which wealthy, academic elites take turns taking pot shots at the very culture that made them a success and then romantically create their own versions of the "white man's Indian." They can't have it both ways. If traditionalistic teaching are so valid, so required for today's society, then by all means, quit your tenured professorships, move off the grid, and "walk the talk." But writing books that tout "traditionalist teachings" that use paper and inks that come from the destruction of native plants; and from those who are resplendent in living off the fat of the "nasty, urbanized west" seems more than hypocritical; it is ludicrous. Earth's Blanket started off with the best of intentions, but it simply tried to do too much, to cover two distinct genres; in attempting this, it fails at both.