Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the modern era may be recognized when it becomes commonly known that ancient knowledge possessed by Fourth World nations can solve modern problems like global warming. As scientists are beginning to realize, forest practices and jungle management developed more than 2000 years ago in the jungles of Brazil and the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast of the United States. Complex Fourth World societies in the Rio Negro (upstream of the Amazon) employed a technique now popularly labeled “slash and char” to manage and grow the jungle in a fashion that balanced carbon releases with carbon sequestration. The terra preta–rich dark soils created by the Manacapuru about A.D. 400 and continued in use by the Paredão from A.D. 700 is made to include charcoal. Charcoal is made from slow. smoldering burns of wood instead of rapid burning. Folding charcoal into otherwise depleted jungle soil adds a binder that allows the soil to retain potassium and phosphorous as well as other minerals and nutrients. At least half of the carbon produced from burning a forest using the charcoal method goes into the soil–a form of carbon sequestration.
By improving the nutrients in the jungle soil, the makers of terra preta so enriched the soil that new trees grew faster and healthier. The dark soil also provided a powerful, highly nutritious substrate for growing food plants as well.
This “cooperative management” of the jungle appears to be responsible for the successful development of a great portion of the Brazilian jungle. Yes! Human created jungle. Cooperative management of the jungle produced more jungle, stronger jungle and nutritious foods for sizable populations along the Amazon River centuries before Europeans set foot on the hemisphere’s coasts.
Cooperative management appears to have been as important in the Pacific Northwest of the United States-Pacific Southwest–of Canada. While conventional scientists suggest that the peoples of this region use slash-and-burn techniques for managing the forests, it is possible that slash-and-char may also have been employed. Partial burns of forests in the Atlantic northeast by Haudenosaunee, Micmac and others created garden forests that were sustained over long periods of time–benefiting the earth and the people.
The Kyoto treaty signators have a great deal to learn from Fourth World nations. And, Fourth World nations have a great deal to contribute to the debate over global climate change. Fourth World nations that still draw on their ancient knowledge should now apply that knowledge in their own territories; and the Kyoto signators should ask to be invited to the table of negotiations for a new global climate change treaty.
Pacific coastal nations like the Quinault Indian Nation, the Nuxalk Nation and the Wuikinuxv Nation have the potential for contributing substantially to the reduction of carbon emissions simply as a result of their forest management practices. Like the Menominee Nation that so successfully grew a forest in their territory while the remainder of Wisconsin is denuded, the Haudenosaunee and the nations of Brazil have practiced holistic environmental management–balancing human need with the environment’s capacity to reproduce. All should be seated at the table to engage states’ governments on cooperative environmental management.
Some leaders in the Fourth World now call this process Holistic Environmental Management. As a body of knowledge, Holistic Environmental Management is an accurate description for the process of creating terra preta and balancing environmental pressures to growing a jungle and a garden.
(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
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