Under Prairie Skies: The Plants and Native Peoples of the Northern Plains (Paperback)
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In Under Prairie Skies, C. Thomas Shay asks and answers the question, What role did plants play in the lives of early inhabitants of the northern Great Plains? Since humans arrived at the end of the Ice Age, plants played important roles as Native peoples learned which were valuable foods, which held medicinal value, and which were best for crafts.
Incorporating Native voices, ethnobotanical studies, personal stories, and research techniques, Under Prairie Skies shows how, since the end of the Ice Age, plants have held a central place in the lives of Native peoples. Eventually some groups cultivated seed-bearing annuals and, later, fields of maize and other crops. Throughout history, their lives became linked with the land, both materially and spiritually.
About the Author
C. Thomas Shay is a senior scholar in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of The Itasca Bison Kill Site: An Ecological Analysis, as well as numerous articles and book chapters.
“There should be a book like this one for each region of the United States—a ‘big picture’ guide to landscapes, original inhabitants, and plants that anchors school curricula, welcomes visitors to new places, and invites residents to think more deeply about where they live. It is a sweeping survey of northern Great Plains landscapes and an engaging retrospective on the lives of the people and plants found there, including that of the author.”—Jonathan Hancock, H-Environment
"This is a loving memoir of a life lived studying the Northern Plains with all the paraphernalia necessary to allow readers to follow the author into the field."—L. L. Johnson, Choice
"The history of the use of the plants of the prairies of the Northern Plains is written as a story for the general reader but it supplies the necessary scientific documentation, scientific nomenclature, and references and notes to satisfy more demanding scientific readers. It is recommended reading for those interested in prairies, their plants, and the Native peoples whose lives were dependent upon them."—Kenneth P. Vogel, Nebraska History
"These close connections of Indigenous peoples to the land, their reverence and respect for natural resources, and their ability to utilize them sustainably are lessons we should all be mindful of as we continue to shape and depend upon this landscape we call home."—Steven L. Matzner, South Dakota History
"To the uninitiated, the Northern Plains may appear flat, barren, treeless, and stark, echoing its nineteenth-century characterization as the Great American Desert. Yet through the eyes of anthropologist and ethnobotanist C. Thomas Shay, the plains come alive, pulsing with life and energy, blanketed with plant life that has supported human occupation for thousands of years. In a book that is part memoir, part travelogue, part botanical and archeological handbook, Shay casts an interpretive eye over the interactions of plants and peoples before the coming of Europeans."—Joseph Jastrzembski, Journal of Folklore Research Reviews
“Under Prairie Skies is a beautiful love story, pure and simple. C. Thomas Shay writes with deep affection, profound knowledge, and obvious fascination about the plants, places, and Native peoples of the North American prairies.”—Nancy J. Turner, distinguished professor emerita in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria
“As engaging as a National Geographic documentary! Blending science and the humanities, Under Prairie Skies takes its place alongside such classics as Melvin Gilmore’s Prairie Smoke and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.”—Lance M. Foster, tribal historic preservation officer and vice chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
“C. Thomas Shay skillfully blends ecology, archaeology, botany, and traditional knowledge, revealing the entangled histories of northern plains peoples and environments. Focusing on the wild and domesticated plants they used, he tells a compelling story of human resourcefulness and resilience.”—William Green, former state archaeologist of Iowa and director emeritus of the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College
“The author’s personal vignettes add warmth, scientific insight, and sometimes drama. The volume is beautifully illustrated and fully but unobtrusively referenced. It invites us to visit, explore, and learn more about [the northern plains’] diverse cultural and natural resources.”—Gayle Fritz, professor of anthropology emerita at Washington University in Saint Louis