Wednesday, May 30, 2007 Interviews - Sherman Alexie

Darkly funny, sharply observant, Flight lays bare the experience of a teenaged outsider circa 2007. Alternately heartbreaking and wondrous, Sherman Alexie's first novel in ten years tells the story of an orphan careening through foster homes until finally, not long after we meet him, he walks into a bank and comes unstuck in time. Gritty, intense, and especially timely, it's a lightning-fast read besides. Sherman Alexie

And according to Alexie, the story bound in these paperback pages is only a start. "Flight has been so extensively rewritten in my mind," he says, "that we think I'm going to rewrite it extensively and republish it in a year and a half."

Say what?

Having written seventeen books (prose and lots of poetry) and several screenplays, the Washington native is not afraid to flaunt convention. Sometimes at his readings, for example, he never quite gets around to reading. Or he'll simply use the book to get started. "My performances are a process of rewriting," Alexie explains.

Before his event downtown, Alexie stopped by to discuss the new book, slobbering on Stephen King, potlatch culture, pile of crap novels, and more.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

With Tuition Waiver, Maine Invests in Its ‘First People’

ORONO, Me. — By the time she was 32, Karen Carrion was living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., working for a concert promoter and looking for a change. She had never attended college and considered it out of the question because of the cost.

That changed when Ms. Carrion’s mother, a Maine native and a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, urged her to apply to the University of Maine and its North American Indian Waiver and Scholarship Program.

“I probably wouldn’t have gone to college at all if not for this,” Ms. Carrion, a sophomore majoring in women’s studies, said between classes at the university’s flagship campus in Orono, about eight miles north of Bangor.

The scholarship pays for tuition, fees, room and board for any undergraduate or graduate student who can prove membership in a state or federally recognized tribe or can prove direct descent from a member.

Members of recognized Canadian tribes are also eligible, though students from outside Maine must first live in the state for one year to establish residency.

About 500 students throughout the University of Maine system are enrolled in the program. About 160 of them, 40 of whom are from out of state, are enrolled at Orono, said John Bear Mitchell, coordinator of the waiver program.

The program dates to 1934, when university trustees voted to grant full scholarships to five students who were members of the Penobscot or Passamaquoddy tribes. In 1971, the criteria were broadened to include all North American Indians, but few took advantage. In 2001, the university appointed Mr. Mitchell to streamline the program, and enrollment has increased.

“I think it’s our responsibility as a land grant university to work together with the state’s first people and ensure they not only have access, but succeed in higher education,” said Edna Mora Szymanski, the senior vice president and provost.

Mr. Mitchell said the program cost the state about $2 million last year.

Other colleges and universities around the country offer similar programs. Among them are the University of Minnesota-Morris and Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., which give qualified American Indians free tuition, and the University of Massachusetts system, which offers tuition waivers to Indians who are state residents. Michigan waives tuition at all public colleges and universities for students who prove their tribal lineage or membership and reside in the state for a year or more.

Syracuse University offers free tuition, fees, room and board to first-year and transfer students from local tribes.

According to a 2005 report by the American Council on Education, the number of American Indian students attending college doubled from 1977 to 2002. Mr. Mitchell, a member of the Penobscot Nation, said the Maine program helped empower its students and gave them a chance to return to their communities and give back.

Mr. Mitchell is also a co-director of the Wabanaki Center at the university, which studies the four largest tribes in Maine: the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. According to the 2000 census, six-tenths of 1 percent of Maine residents, or about 7,000 people, are American Indian.

The center is a gathering place for Indian students, many of whom lived on small reservations before coming to college. “It’s a safe place. It provides students with a set of relations within the university community,” said Shaerri Mitchell, 36, a graduate student whose grandfather founded the center. “It models the communal structure of a reservation.” She and Mr. Mitchell are cousins.

Sonya Lacoute, who attended the university as an undergraduate and will receive her master’s in social work next May, came to Orono from Pleasant Point Indian Reservation, which is home to about 2,000 people in far eastern Maine.

Ms. Lacoute, who works now in the tribal court for the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island, about four miles from campus, said the scholarship allowed her to attend college and the center helped her adjust to life in a more urban setting than she was used to.

“To me, this was the big city,” she said. “In that very different environment, it was nice to know that there were other natives here in a very welcoming environment.”

Mr. Mitchell said he hoped to bring more out-of-state students to the program. He does not have much of a recruiting budget, he said, and news of the scholarship travels mainly by word of mouth. Students are going to high school classrooms around Maine to publicize the program.

“We’re still underrepresented in the University of Maine system,” Mr. Mitchell said. “For a long time the public thought we were needy, and we want to show them that we’re not. We want to educate students, graduate them, and give the state more tax money and a return on their investment.”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Engulfed by Climate Change, Town Seeks Lifeline

NEWTOK, Alaska — The sturdy little Cessnas land whenever the fog lifts, delivering children’s bicycles, boxes of bullets, outboard motors and cans of dried oats. And then, with a rumble down a gravel strip, the planes are gone, the outside world recedes and this subarctic outpost steels itself once again to face the frontier of climate change.

“I don’t want to live in permafrost no more,” said Frank Tommy, 47, standing beside gutted geese and seal meat drying on a wooden rack outside his mother’s house. “It’s too muddy. Everything is crooked around here.”

The earth beneath much of Alaska is not what it used to be. The permanently frozen subsoil, known as permafrost, upon which Newtok and so many other Native Alaskan villages rest is melting, yielding to warming air temperatures and a warming ocean. Sea ice that would normally protect coastal villages is forming later in the year, allowing fall storms to pound away at the shoreline.

Erosion has made Newtok an island, caught between the ever widening Ninglick River and a slough to the north. The village is below sea level, and sinking. Boardwalks squish into the spring muck. Human waste, collected in “honey buckets” that many residents use for toilets, is often dumped within eyeshot in a village where no point is more than a five-minute walk from any other. The ragged wooden houses have to be adjusted regularly to level them on the shifting soil.

Studies say Newtok could be washed away within a decade. Along with the villages of Shishmaref and Kivalina farther to the north, it has been the hardest hit of about 180 Alaska villages that suffer some degree of erosion.

Some villages plan to hunker down behind sea walls built or planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, at least for now. Others, like Newtok, have no choice but to abandon their patch of tundra. The corps has estimated that to move Newtok could cost $130 million because of its remoteness, climate and topography. That comes to almost $413,000 for each of the 315 residents.

Not that anyone is offering to pay.

After all, climate change is raising questions about how to deal with drought, wildfires, hurricanes and other threats that affect so many more people and involve large sums of money.

“We haven’t sat down as a society and said, ‘How are we going to adapt to this?’ ” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and a lead author of a recent report by a United Nations panel on the impacts and vulnerability presented by climate change. “Just like we haven’t sat down and said, ‘How are we going to reduce emissions?’ And both have to be done.”

Amid the uncertainty, the residents of Newtok hear the skeptics, who question the price tag for moving such a small, seemingly inconsequential place. But residents here emphasize that they are a federally recognized American Indian tribe, and they shudder when asked why they cannot just move to an existing village or a city like Fairbanks.

They say their identity is rooted in their isolation, however qualified it has become over the last century by outside influences. It was the government, they say, that insisted decades ago that they and so many other villages abandon their nomadic ways and pick a place to call home. The current village site was once only a winter camp, and the people of Newtok say they are not to blame just because they are now among the first climate refugees in the United States.

“The federal government, they’re the ones who came into our lives and took away some of our values,” said Nick Tom Jr., 49, the former Newtok tribal administrator. “They came in and said, ‘You aren’t civilized. We’re going to educate you.’ That was hard for our grandparents.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pope: Injustices Done in Colonization

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI, who has been criticized by Indian rights groups, said Wednesday the church does not gloss over the injustices that accompanied the Christian colonization of Latin America and lamented that indigenous peoples' basic rights were often trampled upon by missionaries.

''While we do not overlook the various injustices and sufferings which accompanied colonization, the Gospel has expressed and continues to express the identity of the peoples in this region and provides inspiration to address the challenges of our globalized era,'' Benedict told English-speaking pilgrims in St. Peter's Square as he talked about his trip to Brazil earlier this month.

Benedict said that his visit to Brazil, his first papal voyage to Latin America, ''embraced not only that great nation, but all Latin America, home to many of the world's Catholics.'' He described the trip as being ''above all, a pilgrimage of praise to God for the faith which has shaped their cultures for over 500 years.''

''Certainly, the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the work of evangelizing the Latin American continent,'' the pope said.

Benedict's remarks to Italian-speaking pilgrims at his general audience in the square were even stronger than the comments in English.

''It is not possible, indeed, to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled on,'' Benedict said.

The pontiff said he was making a ''dutiful mention of such unjustifiable crimes'' and said some missionaries and theologians in the past had condemned them.

Indian rights groups in Brazil criticized Benedict for his insistence that Latin American Indians wanted to become Christian before European conquerors arrived centuries ago.

During the trip, the pontiff told a regional conference of bishops in Brazil that pre-Columbian people of Latin America and the Caribbean were seeking Christ without realizing it.

Paulo Suess, an adviser to the church-backed Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, said at the end of the trip that Benedict's comments failed to take into account that Indians were enslaved and killed by the Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic.

Marcio Meira, in charge of Brazil's federal Indian Bureau, said Indians were forced to convert to Catholicism as the result of a ''colonial process.''

The pope in Brazil told the bishops that, ''the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.''

In 2000, during the Vatican's Holy Year, the Catholic Church apologized to Brazil's Indians and blacks during a ceremony in Brazil for the ''sins and errors'' committed by its clergy and faithful in the past 500 years. A Vatican cardinal representing Pope John Paul II participated in the ceremony, which saw the head of Brazil's bishops conference ask God for forgiveness for the sins committed against brothers, especially the Indians.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site dedicated

LA JUNTA, Colo. - Tribal leaders from the Northern Cheyenne, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, along with the National Park Service and nearly 500 others, gathered April 28 to dedicate the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

After a prayer from Cheyenne Chief Gordon Yellowman, various Indian and non-Indian dignitaries spoke on the tragic event.

''Imagine a place of where families eat, sleep, learn; a place where people share knowledge, live in peace and where children run and play; a place where flags are flown to represent protection; a place of safety and security,'' said Northern Cheyenne President Eugene Little Coyote. ''Now imagine this place disturbed by chaos, gunshots, cries and pleas from the innocent; peace disrupted by attacks of inhumanity. I could be describing the violent events that occurred a few weeks ago on a college campus; an event described as 'the most tragic event in American history,' but I am not. I am talking about the Sand Creek Massacre.''

On Nov. 29, 1864, the Colorado Territory Militia, under the command of Methodist minister Col. John Chivington, attacked the camp of Southern Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle. Although Black Kettle raised an American flag and a white flag of peace, the militia were instructed by Chivington to ''kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.'' Nearly 240 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were murdered, mostly women and children. Women were raped and the dead were mutilated. Body parts of the slain Indians were paraded though Denver in celebration of the massacre.

''The Cheyenne witnessed unimaginable acts of savagery from the volunteers that cold November day. Our people still remember what happened and still brings tears to our eyes,'' said William Walks Along, executive administrator of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., was also present. Campbell worked for more than 25 years with the Northern and Southern Cheyenne tribes to gain more public attention as well as federal recognition of the site and event. James Druck eventually purchased nearly 1,500 acres of land on the site as a gift for the tribes. Campbell was also prominent in passing congressional legislation to protect the site and eventually establish it as a national historic site, which now can manage nearly 2,500 acres of the 12,500-acre Sand Creek Massacre site.

''Most Americans during this time perceived American Indians to be savages,'' Campbell said. ''But if there were any savages that day, it was not the Indians.''

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., made a formal apology of the atrocities committed by the United States.

''I acknowledge and admit the wrongs that were done and tolerated by the federal government here and across the nation. They were wrong and they were deadly. As a senator from a Plains state, I deeply apologize and I'll work to right this wrong,'' Brownback said.

Northern Cheyenne Tribal Councilman Jace Killsback said, ''The Northern Cheyenne are proud and thankful that Sand Creek has been made into a national historic site. It shows that the U.S. and the state of Colorado are taking responsibility and recognizing their past acts of genocide and policies of oppression against American Indians, as well as working to protect and preserve this site.

''Today, the Cheyenne people are currently fighting to protect another site, Noavose or Bear Butte, the birthplace of our nation and the center of our worldview and philosophy. We hope and pray that it will not take the lives of 200 Cheyenne people and 150 years for the U.S. and the state of South Dakota to afford the same responsibility, recognition and protection to Noavose.''

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gone With the Wind by Matthew Fleischer

Sherman Alexie stands at the back of a dark, crowded theater at last month’s Palm Springs Native American Film Festival, scanning the audience for reactions. The festival is showing the film made from Alexie’s first screenplay, Smoke Signals, in honor of its 10th anniversary, and he’s keen to see how it has held up over time. “I don’t know if I can watch the whole thing,” he says, “too many flaws.” Onscreen, Alexie’s memorable road-trip buddies Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas-Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) sit in a trailer watching old cowboy-and-Indian movies. “The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV,” says Thomas, “is Indians watching Indians on TV.” The crowd erupts with laughter and Alexie smiles. It’s a great line, and at the time it was written it was certainly true. Despite the dawn of political correctness in the ’90s, depictions of Native Americans as either bloodthirsty savages or as the stoic, spiritual antecedents to hippie culture continued to dominate the big screen.

But Smoke Signals threatened to change all that. The first major film written, directed and acted by Native Americans, Smoke Signals was both a critical and commercial success. Selected for the dramatic competition at Sundance and winner of the festival’s Audience Award, it was bought by Miramax and went on to bank $6.8 million at the box office on a budget of less than $2 million. More importantly, it offered Native Americans starved for positive and accurate depictions of themselves something they could watch and be proud of.

The film’s success appeared to be a harbinger of a new wave of Native filmmaking. What’s happened since? “Absolutely nothing,” according to Alexie.

Indeed, a Native film with the cultural impact of Smoke Signals has yet to be replicated, and Alexie feels partly to blame. After their film took off, he and director Chris Eyre were bombarded with offers to work together again, but instead of capitalizing on the momentum, the two had a falling-out. Alexie, who was already well known in the literary world as the author of more than 17 books, drew the lion’s share of the film’s media attention and chose to roll with the praise, leaving Eyre feeling neglected.

“Basically we acted like typical Hollywood assholes,” says Alexie.

The two split ways with mixed results. In 2002, Alexie wrote and directed The Business of Fancydancing, which despite an interesting, semiautobiographical narrative about a reservation-born poet’s struggle to maintain his cultural roots in the white world, was missing Eyre’s directorial precision and went straight to DVD. Meanwhile, Eyre directed the thoroughly forgettable Skins, as well as several films for television (including 2003’s Edge of America), all of which lacked Alexie’s artistic edge.

If the creative duo who launched the Indian world’s first hit has sputtered, the world of Native film has continued to grow, albeit slowly. In 2001, Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk’s The Fast Runner won the Camera d’Or Prize at Cannes. This year, the Palm Springs Native American Film Festival received more than 360 submissions, up from 180 the year before. Perhaps most notably, Smoke Signals star Beach earned strong reviews and serious Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers.

Sundance, where Smoke Signals first began its amazing run, has also continued to provide a major outlet for Native filmmakers. This year, Creek director Sterlin Harjo’s Four Sheets to the Wind screened in the dramatic competition and went home with a Special Jury Prize for its leading lady, Tamara Podemski, who plays a reservation girl struggling to cope with city life and the loss of her father.

Yet despite a series of critical successes and the unwavering support of Sundance, which has used the festival as a showcase for Native films dating back to the first edition in 1985, commercial viability has remained elusive.

“Sundance shows around 120 feature films, and only a fraction get picked up and distributed,” says Bird Runningwater, associate director of the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Initiative. “But it does seem that, most often, Native films fall into the category of those not being picked up.

Four Sheets to the Wind might be one of the best films out there that no one has ever seen. Despite drawing favorable comparisons to the box-office dynamo Garden State, and despite Podemski’s lauded performance, the film has yet to land a theatrical distribution deal. “It’s heartbreaking because we saw firsthand how audiences responded to the film,” says Podemski. “Someone just needs to get the balls to put it out there.”

Ironically, Podemski found out after talks with several high-level executives, the problem with the film is that it isn’t “Native enough.” “This is a regular film about a family that just happens to have a full Native cast,” she explains. “And I was told that the industry just doesn’t know what to do with that yet. They only know how to market something that is noticeably ‘Native.’”

That people can’t yet see the film is especially crushing for Podemski. For a Native actress, positive and challenging modern roles are difficult to come by. “There’s definitely a tendency to want to dress us up in buckskin,” she says.

Smoke Signals director Eyre agrees. “I don’t think a lot of people see value in telling stories about modern Indians,” he says. “But I don’t see the value in films that show the past. They all end the same way — the Indians die.”

The blame doesn’t fall entirely on the industry, however. Palm Springs Native American Film Festival programmer Thomas Harris, who screened all 360 of this year’s entries, says many Native filmmakers rely too heavily on the tragic realities of reservation life and not enough on substantive storytelling. “Right now, the ratio of documentaries to narratives is about 80/20,” he notes. “Which makes sense, because, with digital technology, documentaries can be made very cheaply. But there just aren’t enough narrative features out there.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - TV - Dee Brown - HBO

LOS ANGELES, May 8 — When the historian Dee Brown published “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in 1971, it became an instant sensation. In an age of rebellion, this nonfiction book told the epic tale of the displacement and decline of the American Indian not from the perspective of the winners, but from that of the Indians.

But the fact that Mr. Brown’s work has been translated into 17 languages and has sold five million copies around the world was not enough to convince HBO that a film version would draw a sizable mainstream audience. When the channel broadcasts its two-hour adaptation of the book, beginning Memorial Day weekend, at its center will be a new character: a man who was part Sioux, was educated at an Ivy League college and married a white woman.

“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year.

The added character is based on a real person: Charles Eastman, part Sioux and descended from a long line of Santee chiefs but who was sent away by his father to boarding school and then held up as a model of the potential assimilation of 19th-century Native Americans. But the film fictionalizes significant portions of his life. In the HBO version he dodges bullets at the Battle of Little Bighorn. In reality he was far away, in grade school in Nebraska.

Fictionalizing history has long been standard in Hollywood. But rarely do filmmakers directly hitch their historically inaccurate projects to revered works of nonfiction. Dick Wolf, an executive producer of the film who is best known for the “Law & Order” television franchise, defended the fabrications.

“This was not an attempt to do the Ken Burns version of the Indian experience,” Mr. Wolf said in an interview. “It is a dramatization, and we needed a protagonist.”

(The chief executive of HBO, Chris Albrecht, announced yesterday that he was taking a leave of absence after being charged with assaulting a girlfriend in a Las Vegas parking lot early on Sunday.)

At the time it was published, Mr. Brown’s epic, subtitled “An Indian History of the American West,” struck a chord in a country embroiled in a divisive war in Vietnam and still shuddering from the American military’s massacre in the village of My Lai. Segregation was dying hard in the South, and the American Indian Movement was ascending.

The story is a relentless tragedy, tracing the history of American Indian nations from 1860, shortly after the first new states extended into the “permanent Indian frontier,” through 1890 and the massacre at Wounded Knee, in what is now South Dakota. It became a blockbuster best seller and helped shape the way the history of the American Indians has been interpreted ever since.

For decades the book eluded attempts to turn it into a film, partly because of Mr. Brown’s distrust of Hollywood. At least two attempts by potential moviemakers to adapt the book failed. When the current producers optioned the book five years ago, Mr. Brown was in the last years of his life and, according to his grandson, did not believe anything would come of the project. (Mr. Brown died in 2002 at 94.)

Tom Thayer, the executive producer who originated the project, said the HBO team wrestled for months with how to boil down a book that spans 30 years and dozens of tribes into a 130-minute film.

“The book is basically an editorialized textbook,” Mr. Thayer said. “It doesn’t have a single narrative; it’s anthropological and episodic.” Therefore, he added, “we felt that to tell a story of that size, the Eastman character would be a great hand-holder for the audience.”

Many literary critics, and millions of readers, however, had little trouble following Mr. Brown’s story. Writing in The New York Times Book Review in March 1971, N. Scott Momaday, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, emphasized that the book was a story, “a whole narrative of singular integrity and precise continuity; that is what makes the book so hard to put aside, even when one has come to the end.”

The film largely restricts itself to the late 1880s, the time of the Ghost Dance, a messianic movement that swept through the Plains Indian tribes. Within that period it weaves together three strands: the story of Sitting Bull, the legendary chief of the Sioux, who fought against Custer’s forces at Little Bighorn in 1876; that of Henry L. Dawes, the Massachusetts senator who pushed into law a plan to allocate portions of Indian land to individual tribe members; and Eastman, who was taken from his tribe by his father and attended Dartmouth and then Boston University School of Medicine.

It is in the last two stories that the film begins to bend history.

“Eastman was the most well-known, well-educated Indian at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Raymond Wilson, a professor of history at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., who wrote what is considered to be the definitive biography of Eastman. “When I heard they were doing the film,” he said, “I joked with a couple of people that I hoped they didn’t have Charles Eastman shaking hands with Sitting Bull at Pine Ridge.”

Monday, May 07, 2007

How the Inca Leapt Canyons

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Conquistadors from Spain came, they saw and they were astonished. They had never seen anything in Europe like the bridges of Peru. Chroniclers wrote that the Spanish soldiers stood in awe and fear before the spans of braided fiber cables suspended across deep gorges in the Andes, narrow walkways sagging and swaying and looking so frail.

Yet the suspension bridges were familiar and vital links in the vast empire of the Inca, as they had been to Andean cultures for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1532. The people had not developed the stone arch or wheeled vehicles, but they were accomplished in the use of natural fibers for textiles, boats, sling weapons — even keeping inventories by a prewriting system of knots.

So bridges made of fiber ropes, some as thick as a man’s torso, were the technological solution to the problem of road building in rugged terrain. By some estimates, at least 200 such suspension bridges spanned river gorges in the 16th century. One of the last of these, over the Apurimac River, inspired Thornton Wilder’s novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

Although scholars have studied the Inca road system’s importance in forging and controlling the pre-Columbian empire, John A.Ochsendorf of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here said, “Historians and archaeologists have neglected the role of bridges.”

Dr. Ochsendorf’s research on Inca suspension bridges, begun while he was an undergraduate at Cornell University, illustrates an engineering university’s approach to archaeology, combining materials science and experimentation with the traditional fieldwork of observing and dating artifacts. Other universities conduct research in archaeological materials, but it has long been a specialty at M.I.T.

Students here are introduced to the multidisciplinary investigation of ancient technologies as applied in transforming resources into cultural hallmarks from household pottery to grand pyramids. In a course called “materials in human experience,” students are making a 60-foot-long fiber bridge in the Peruvian style. On Saturday, they plan to stretch the bridge across a dry basin between two campus buildings.

In recent years, M.I.T. archaeologists and scientists have joined forces in studies of early Peruvian ceramics, balsa rafts and metal alloys; Egyptian glass and Roman concrete; and also the casting of bronze bells in Mexico. They discovered that Ecuadoreans, traveling by sea, introduced metallurgy to western Mexico. They even found how Mexicans added bits of morning-glory plants, which contain sulfur, in processing natural rubber into bouncing balls.

“Mexicans discovered vulcanization 3,500 years before Goodyear,” said Dorothy Hosler, an M.I.T. professor of archaeology and ancient technology. “The Spanish had never seen anything that bounced like the rubber balls of Mexico.”

Heather Lechtman, an archaeologist of ancient technology who helped develop the M.I.T. program, said that in learning “how objects were made, what they were made of and how they were used, we see people making decisions at various stages, and the choices involve engineering as well as culture.”

From this perspective, she said, the choices are not always based only on what works well, but also are guided by ideological and aesthetic criteria. In the casting of early Mexican bells, attention was given to their ringing tone and their color; an unusually large amount of arsenic was added to copper to make the bronze shine like silver.

“If people use materials in different ways in different societies, that tells you something about those people,” Professor Lechtman said.

In the case of the Peruvian bridges, the builders relied on a technology well suited to the problem and their resources. The Spanish themselves demonstrated how appropriate the Peruvian technique was.

Dr. Ochsendorf, a specialist in early architecture and engineering, said the colonial government tried many times to erect European arch bridges across the canyons, and each attempt ended in fiasco until iron and steel were applied to bridge building. The Peruvians, knowing nothing of the arch or iron metallurgy, instead relied on what they knew best, fibers from cotton, grasses and saplings, and llama and alpaca wool.

The Inca suspension bridges achieved clear spans of at least 150 feet, probably much greater. This was a longer span than any European masonry bridges at the time. The longest Roman bridge in Spain had a maximum span between supports of 95 feet. And none of these European bridges had to stretch across deep canyons.

Sale of Carbon Credits Helping Land-Rich, but Cash-Poor, Tribes

LAPWAI, Idaho — On the Nez Perce reservation here, land that was cleared in the 19th century for farming is being converted back to forest, in part to sell the trees’ ability to sequester carbon.

“These forests are a carbon crop,” Brian Kummett, a forester for the Nez Perce tribal forestry division, said as he surveyed a vast field studded with recently planted ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch saplings. “We can sell the rights from the time the forest is planted to the time it’s harvested, 80 or 120 years down the road.”

The market for carbon credits promises to be a boon for some land-rich but cash-poor tribes. Selling carbon sequestration credits early in the growth of a forest lets the tribe realize some money more quickly, rather than waiting for decades for the harvest.

Carbon is a constituent of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Trees can pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their tissue. Companies may be able to offset the carbon dioxide they send into the atmosphere by paying for projects that pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

The Nez Perce are participating in an Indian tribe “carbon portfolio” being created by the National Carbon Offset Coalition in Butte, Mont., an organization supported largely by the Energy Department.

“They have a long-term management, large acreage and trained staff,” said Ted Dodge, executive director of the coalition.

Bob Gruenig, senior policy analyst for the National Tribal Environmental Council in Albuquerque, said the tribes “see climate change as a really big issue.”

“They are seeing changes in the land, changes in plants and changes in the migration of wildlife,” he said.

New forests are just part of the carbon credits that are being sold on reservations and at other places. In the last few weeks, the Chicago Carbon Exchange has approved selling carbon sequestration credits on rangeland and no-till agricultural fields.

An acre of pine forest captures and holds one to two metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which it uses for photosynthesis. Untilled cropland holds a third of a ton of carbon per acre, and rangeland holds up to a fifth of a ton. The sequestered carbon dioxide is measured by soil tests before and after the planting.

The market for carbon sequestration in the United States is voluntary. As a result, the demand has been low compared with Europe, where emissions are now restricted by law. The market also lacks uniform standards, prompting some environmental campaigners to question its credibility. Tribal carbon sales have had mixed results since the first such sale in the 1990s, when the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington sold rights to its land for 25 cents a metric ton.

The Nez Perce had a major deal fall through a few years ago. It would have paid the tribe $1.50 a ton for 200,000 tons over 50 years and would have been worth nearly $500,000. Experts estimate that a project of that size would offset carbon equivalent to a year’s emission from 500,000 cars.

Other tribes have found reason to grow carbon crops. In Washington and Oregon, new coal-fired power plants are required to offset their emissions. So the Lummi in northwestern Washington bought 1,700 acres that had been logged, reforested the land and sold sequestration rights to a power company.

Officials say studies showing that recent warming is almost certainly caused by accumulating greenhouse gases are increasing support for “cap and trade” rules that limit the carbon dioxide a site can emit. If a factory produces less than the cap, it can sell the surplus rights to emit carbon to other companies. If a plant exceeds the limit, it has to buy the right to emit more gases from another company or find other methods to sequester carbon equal to what it is releasing.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chief Illiniwek video segment on Comedy Central's Daily Show

You can now download and view the Chief Illiniwek segment on the Daily Show featuring an interview with LeAnne Howe and their unique outlook on the Indian mascot culture.