chapter  6
21 Pages

The West Coast

WithAlice Beck Kehoe

The west coast of North America is a segment of the Pacific Rim. Its history reflects its connections to Asia, connections not yet well charted but evidenced by such items as iron knives used for many centuries before European contacts. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who had studied Northwest Coast societies through the massive ethnographies compiled by Franz Boas and his Kwakiutl-affiliated collaborator George Hunt, broke through the nineteenth-century model of savages by comparing these societies to the medieval French. Particularly in California and the Northwest Coast where native plants and animals were managed, not replaced with imported crops, Europeans thought they were looking at unfettered people in a bounteous wilderness, the opposite of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s conviction that only a policed society could be tolerable. Concern for sustainable resource management, less dependent on expensive petrochemicals, helped revise estimation of indigenous West Coast nations’ development.