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The “Ohlone Way”

The Ohlone are native peoples who, prior to Spanish colonization, inhabited the coastal region of Northern California. Although regarded as one group, the Ohlone, also called Costanoans, were in truth composed of small, independent groups with members ranging from 100-250 (Cartier, 1991). Their values and perception of the world gave rise to a subsistence economy, communal culture and equalitarian leadership structures.

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Unlike other larger native Americans who settled down into elaborate cities and developed complex economies, the Ohlone tradition was largely communal (Cartier, 1991).

They viewed the land and all resources in nature as sacred. Nature was not something to be individually owned because man not superior to nature but is part of it. Man then has the common responsibility to take care of it for the welfare of future generations. As such, their economy was largely subsistence based which means they worked to obtain what was just enough to keep them alive. There was no concept of accumulation of wealth or private property (Margolin, 1978). The tools used in production were crude. They moved their communities a lot in order to follow the bounty of nature ready for harvest.

These movements also allow the regeneration of the resources they have used. Because of these factors, their activities were limited to hunting, horticulture, fishing and gathering (Cartier, 1991). A group activity, animals were hunted, trapped or poisoned to be eaten. By pruning, reseeding and burning, the availability of plants extremely necessary for their survival were ensured. They picked medicinal herbs, shells, nuts, eggs and other items they needed. This economy gave rise to a politics that is equalitarian. Leadership was not based on property but on wisdom, capacity and character, the determinants of social status (Margolin, 1978).

Although there were wealthier members in the group, they did not take advantage of those who are poorer. Rather, it is the wealthy who were obligated to provide the resources needed for festivities or to contribute the most during the death of another member. In summary, the Ohlone, may seem backward compared to other indigenous groups or to the present society. However, their economy, politics and culture were the products of their interaction with nature. Because lifeways change over time, population growth and the discovery of better tools and technology would have no doubt contributed to their development as a people.