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California Indians and Their Environment

An Introduction

Kent Lightfoot (Author), Otis Parrish (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 512 pages
ISBN: 9780520256903
April 2009
$32.95, £28.00
Other Formats Available:
Capturing the vitality of California's unique indigenous cultures, this major new introduction incorporates the extensive research of the past thirty years into an illuminating, comprehensive synthesis for a wide audience. Based in part on new archaeological findings, it tells how the California Indians lived in vibrant polities, each boasting a rich village life including chiefs, religious specialists, master craftspeople, dances, feasts, and ceremonies. Throughout, the book emphasizes how these diverse communities interacted with the state's varied landscape, enhancing its already bountiful natural resources through various practices centered around prescribed burning. A handy reference section, illustrated with more than one hundred color photographs, describes the plants, animals, and minerals the California Indians used for food, basketry and cordage, medicine, and more. At a time when we are grappling with the problems of maintaining habitat diversity and sustainable economies, we find that these native peoples and their traditions have much to teach us about the future, as well as the past, of California.

Why California Indians Matter
The Central Role of Fire
Waves of Migrations
A Landscape of Unparalleled Diversity
The Uniqueness of California
The First Fire Managers
They Are Not Farmers
Where We Go from Here


Northwest Coast Province
Central Coast Province
South Coast Province
Northwest Coast Province
Great Central Valley/Sierra Nevada Province
Southern Deserts Province

Art Credits
Kent G. Lightfoot, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, is author of Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers (UC Press), among other books. Otis Parrish is a member of the Kashaya Pomo Tribe.
“One of the best books of its nature to ever cross the trail is the scholarly yet accessible California Indians and Their Environment.”—Press Democrat
“Anyone seriously interested in the cultural history and daily lives of California's Indians will want to check out a copy of this reference book.”—Salinas Californian
“Indispensable for anyone interested in Native cultures and in human interactions with the California environment. . . . Essential.”—Choice
“A completely original contribution, the product of the most current scholarship on Native Californians. . . . The volume appeals to a wide audience, from the casual reader to specialists in environmental sciences or those interested in virtually any aspect of California Indian studies. . . . This book is a valuable resource for all Californians who wish to learn more about the tremendous biological and cultural diversity that surrounds us.”—News From Native California
“[A] pivotal work. . . . I recommend this book to anyone interested in California Indians and their interactions with their environment, in the pre-history of California, and in ethnobotany or ethnobiology in general.”—Susannah B. Johnson Fulton, Shasta College Economic Botany
"Relevant, timely, and approachable, California Indians and Their Environment is an instant classic that should be invaluable for anyone interested in California's diverse natural and cultural landscapes and the future sustainability of the state."—Torben Rick, author of Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

"California Indians and Their Environment stands respectfully on the shoulders of scholarly giants and demonstrates the cumulative power of cultural, historical, and scientific research. It is a remarkably inclusive and relevant text that is both highly informative of past indigenous life ways and identities and strikingly insightful into current environmental crises that confront us all."—Seth Mallios, author of The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown

"In this highly readable and insightful book, Lightfoot and Parrish show how the natural diversity of California not only influenced the contours of Indian lifeways, but was indeed augmented by burning and other practices, that were used to sustain indigenous economies. The ingenuity and skill with which California Indians managed and used natural resources underscores the need to infuse modern land-use policy with the knowledge of people whose ecological experiences in North America eclipse those of Euroamericans by a factor of forty."—Kenneth E. Sassaman, author of People of the Shoals: Stallings Culture of the Savannah River Valley

"This book is a deeply informative and fascinating examination of California Indians' rich and complex relationship with the ecological landscape. Lightfoot and Parrish have thoroughly updated the classic book, The Natural World of the California Indians, with critical analysis of anthropological theory and methods and incorporation of indigenous knowledge and practices. It is a lucid, accessible book that tells an intriguing story for our modern times."—Melissa K. Nelson, San Francisco State University and President of The Cultural Conservancy

"At once scholarly and accessible, this book is destined to be a classic. Framed around pressing environmental issues of concern to a broad range of Californians today, Lightfoot and Parrish provide an historical ecology of California's amazingly diverse environments, its biological resources, and the Native peoples who both adapted to and actively managed them."—Jon M. Erlandson, author of Early Hunter-Gatherers of the California Coast

"California Indians and Their Environment fills a significant gap in our understanding of the first peoples of California. Lightfoot and Parrish take on the daunting task of synthesizing and expanding on our knowledge of indigenous land-management practices, sustainable economies, and the use of natural resources for food, medicine, and technological needs. This innovative and thought-provoking book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about the diverse traditions of California Indians."—Lynn Gamble, author of The Chumash World at European Contact

"This innovative book moves understanding of the Native Peoples of California from the past to the future. The authors' insight into Native Californians as fire managers is an eye-opener to interpreting the ecological and cultural uniqueness of the region. Lightfoot and Parrish have provided the best introduction to Native California while at the same time advancing the best scholarship with an original synthesis. A rare feat!"—William Simmons, Brown University

Martin A. Baumhoff Special Achievement Award, Society for California Archaeology

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