Return to OLLI: Indigenous Culture in the Berkshires and Beyond

Indigenous Cultures: Session One

Slides used in Session One have been posted here.

This is a link to my follow-up commentary, expanding on some of my remarks as well as addressing some questions that did not get answered during the class.

The Alford Land Acknowledgment can be found here.

Our first session went well, I thought. There were about 50 participants, and pretty much everyone was a good sport and took part in my polls, both the facetious polls and the more serious queries.

It took a bit of adjusting (for me, anyway) to get used to the webinar format and how to best use the features. So I didn’t get to present some of the material that I had prepared. Subsequent sessions should go more smoothly, I hope, and we’ll be able to flip through more slides and digest more information. I was pleased with the questions submitted via the “Chat” feature, and I encourage all students to use that mechanism. I’ll answer as many as I can during the session, and if there isn’t time for all of them, I will respond via notes to be posted here, or incorporate the answers in my next presentation.

Some of you amused yourself with this “Quiz” that I prepared for the Open House That Never Was (it had been scheduled for March 12, but was cancelled because you-know-why).

The idea of the Quiz was to interest folks into signing up for my course, by listing a variety of topics that we will cover. There will be many more; you might have fun seeing if you can answer these questions now, before the course begins. It is my hope that by the end of the course, you will be able to score 100!

Also, I have posted a preliminary bibliography, listing some of the resources I have consulted in preparing for this course. I will be referring to some of these from time to time during the presentations; those who are inspired to learn more can find many hours of enjoyable reading.


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    • Mara Winn on April 17, 2020 at 4:21 PM
    • Reply

    Hi Michael!
    I am enjoying the class so far. I have started reading “1491” and am finding it interesting. I wanted to share a link to an article that I just got yesterday in my e-newsletter from

    This article on the mega drought in the western U.S. has a link to an CDC historic review article about the cocoliztli (Nahuatl for “pest”) epidemic that devastated Indian populations in Northern Mexico during the 16th century. The disease was not one that came with the Spanish conquistadors, but was an indigenous hemorrhagic
    virus carried by rodents. Outbreaks occurred during drought conditions when rodent populations were driven to coexist more closely with humans. The death and social devastation was on a scale approaching that of the Bubonic Plague in Europe. The susceptibility of Indian populations to disease is not always attributable to Europeans it would seem.

    1. Mara , for some reason, your link got cut out of your comment — perhaps you could post it separately. I did notice an article recently in the Washington Post that addressed the topic of megadroughts:

      This article was titled “The western U.S. is locked in the grips of the first human-caused megadrought, study finds” —

      I did not see any reference in the WaPo article to the CDC or the disease you mentioned. There is one mention of the Mayan civilization that Mann would probably disagree with. See his comments at the bottom of page 317, and the whole section before that beginning on page 280, “Getting Along with Nature” in “1491.”

      I think the Mayan civilization provided examples of the exception that proves the rule on two counts: (1) they fought bloody wars that contradict my characterization that (for the most part) the indigenous peoples of the Americas were peaceful people, and (2) they may have overtaxed natural resources, leading to an ecological collapse. Mann, I believe, would say that the Mayan civilization came to an end because of (1), not because of (2).

      1. Mara, thank you for your email. I’ll try posting your missing link here:

    • Barbara Ferrante-bricker on April 17, 2020 at 4:27 PM
    • Reply

    I enjoyed the class. Thanks for the River Stories info.I look forward to doing that on Sat.
    I always prefer our presenters to answer questions at the end or at break and at the end. It seems that interrupting the planned presentations for every question disturbs the flow and forces our presenters to cut out some of the carefully planned material.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Barbara — I’m glad you like the format for questions we have chosen. I encourage folks to ask questions, because I want to provide clarification if needed, and also to know what people are interested in. Many of the questions anticipate material that I was going to present later, so I don’t mind rearranging the order of things somewhat.

      I have some points that I want to make, and you can be sure I will get to them!

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