The Motivation for the Seasonal Movement of Bison Hunters on the Northwestern Plains of North America

Banner Oetelaar

Gerald Oetelaar

Prof. Gerald A. Oetelaar, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

To western researchers, the structure of the grasslands ecosystem on the Northwestern Plains of North America is determined primarily by climate as modified locally by topography, drainage, and sediments. The seasonal availability of the different grasses determines the migratory behaviour of bison which, in turn, influences the movement of human populations. Bison ecology and behaviour also determine the patterns of human aggregation and dispersal. Long-term climatic fluctuations, as measured by effective moisture and temperature, influence the net primary productivity of the short grass plains and, by extension, the size of the bison population.

The predictable movement of the larger herds during favorable climatic episodes favours cooperative exploitation with concomitant changes in the distribution and organizational complexity of human groups. To the Blackfoot people however, the grasslands ecosystem or their homeland is not a series of resource patches but an orderly arrangement of places linked by paths, movement and narratives. Their annual movements follow an established network of trails and are motivated by the need to fulfill historical, social and ritual obligations designed to ensure the renewal of the land, the resources and the people.

During these historical journeys, social odysseys, and ritual pilgrimages, the respectful treatment of rocks, minerals, plants and animals as non-human relatives becomes a resource management strategy which, over the millennia, created the resource patches of the western ecologists. Moreover, the long term changes in the patterned movements of these groups were precipitated not by climate but by perceived changes in their relationships with their human and non-human relatives.

Event Information:

Date, Time: 26/05/2014, 17:45 h – 19:00 h

Location: Room S12, Seminargebäude (Building 106), Universitätsstraße 37 , Cologne

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