we have heard the phrase "Indian summer" used frequently
to describe our stretch of good weather. Most of us are taking
advantage of the warm weather rather than contemplating the etymology
of the term "Indian summer." However, a study of the
phrase is an eye-opening look into our nation's history. After
years of asking elders and prominent Indian historians, I stumbled
across an article written by a leading American Indian author
from an Eastern tribe who explained the origins of "Indian
settlers who coined the term would see Indian farmers celebrating
the blessing of being able to add a second and sometimes third harvest
to their winter store following the first frost. The author described
how the Indian farmers would give thanks to the creator for the
warm days. As we celebrate our own recent warm weather, we must
also recognize the contributions that these Indian farmers made
to our overall well-being. American Indians were not only the first
landowners in North America - they were also accomplished farmers
whose agricultural aptitude would eventually transform the world.
Americans today do not know that American Indians owned the land
upon which they farmed largely because the land-tenure system to
the American Indian was vastly different than what the European
colonists knew and would later institute in North America. The Indian
farmer owned the land as long as it was occupied. When land was
abandoned, anyone could claim the land as long as the new owner
the farmed land did not look like the parceled-out sections of Europe
when settlers arrived, they mistook the symbiotic, ecologically
friendly farming style used by Indians as meaning the land was not
to Jack Weatherford's book titled "Indian Givers; How the Indians
of the Americas Transformed the World," American Indians cultivated
more than 300 food crops with dozens of variations that improved
the world's diet both in quantity and quality of foods.
testimony to the skill and knowledge of Native farmers, three-fifths
of the world's crops in cultivation today originated from the ingenious
farmers who were successfully growing crops in varied soils and
climates throughout the Americas.
Native farmers' agricultural proficiency and understanding of the
need to farm in harmony with the land is reflected in "Three
Sisters," a traditional horticultural technique of planting
corn, squash and beans together.
Three Sisters are inseparable because each crop benefits the growth
of the other two crops in a limited space. The growing corn provides
a pole for the bean plant to climb and needed shade for the squash
that covers the ground to provide even moisture and reduce weed
agricultural experimentation, Native farmers employed highly developed
agricultural methods and introduced nutritious crops to the world
that included corn, new grains, wild rice, tomatoes, chilies, sunflowers,
numerous bean and pepper varieties and potatoes.
the introduction of high-yield crops such as the potato and a more
nutritious diet helped spawn a population explosion in Europe that
heralded the colonization of the Americas. The eventual displacement
of Indian people from their traditional farming lands would encourage
the eradication of Indian civilizations.
7,000 years before the first Thanksgiving, farming was an integral
part of the culture and economy of indigenous people in the Americas.
By introducing new agricultural principles, foods and improved cultivation
techniques, the American Indian farmer made an immeasurable contribution
to the world. This is indeed a blessing we should all celebrate
during this Indian summer.
Richard B. Williams is the executive director for the American Indian