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Chinook Nation (You CAN Help!)

23 Feb

Making the world a better place sounds lofty, but can be pursued every day with simple actions. In this case, you can quickly and easily help address a historical injustice by simply signing a petition.

I had the chance to meet and talk with Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, at the recent Society for Cross-Cultural Research meetings in Portland, Oregon. Since then, I have learned a bit more about the Chinook Nation, their justified grievances, and continuing efforts to be federally recognized.

Attempts to gain such recognition reveal a history of broken treaties, misunderstandings, and debate about the specific criteria for federal recognition as a tribe. After reviewing these criteria, the outgoing Clinton administration granted the Chinook Indian Nation federal recognition. Unfortunately, this decision was reversed by the Bush administration just 18 months later.

Now, Tony and others are appealing to the Obama administration to review federal recognition criteria and clarify the legal standing of the Chinook. Please visit the Chinook Nation link above for more information about what you can do to help.

I have also started a petition at to help draw attention to this issue. The petition must have 150 signatures to become searchable on the petition site, a necessary step if the petition is going to have any hope of reaching the 100,000 signatures necessary to be reviewed by presidential staff.

Please review and sign the petition here, and share widely so we can (minimally) reach that first threshold. Imagine how good it will feel to know that you have helped bring about this change – all you have to do is sign your name. Thanks!


Guess who’s coming to dinner? Nine billion of your closest friends.

31 May

Humans eat, poop, and die just like all other animals. How’s that for a Saturday morning happy thought? All of the other wonders that “make us human” begin there: culture, art, religion, language, science, etc. You can’t travel to the stars on an empty tummy, so like the humble clam or hummingbird, we must consume energy in order to thrive and, most importantly, reproduce.


You Are Here.

You Are Here.


And, over the last 10,000 or so years, we’ve gotten exceedingly good at transforming nature to meet our caloric needs. So good that we practically can’t stop reproducing! For better or worse, we have a lot of people to feed. We’re likely going to need all of the ingenuity, intelligence, and experimentation that led us into this mess to get back out of it. How do we sustainably feed 9 billion people by the year 2050? The National Geographic Society is working on it, and you can help. Here’s their fundraising mailer:


“When I say food, what do you think of? Your favorite comfort food? Social gatherings? Family traditions? Food is such a central part of our lives. It’s also a critical issue facing our planet.

When we think of environmental threats, we tend to think of energy use, water and air pollution, or industrial waste. But the truth is, our growing need for food and the environmental challenges posed by agriculture are some of the biggest challenges we need to address.

This year, National Geographic is exploring how we can feed two billion more people by 2050 without harming the planet. You can support National Geographic’s programs, including our work toward finding better ways to produce and consume food in ways that don’t harm the planet…

Here’s a sample of the kind of work our grantees are doing, supported by your donation:

  • Helping farmers develop tools for designing sustainable agricultural systems based on the diversity and stability of local ecosystems, in places like Malawi, where agriculture has been winnowed down to the production of primarily one crop – corn.
  • Discovering, recording, and using traditional knowledge about medicinal and edible plants from cultures as diverse as the Sioux in South Dakota and native Jamaicans in the bio-diverse parish of Portland.
  • Examining the trade-offs of organic farming versus genetically modified crops for farmers and the environment in places like India.

Your gift will help us continue National Geographic’s programs, including exploring ways to double the availability of food to feed a predicted population of nine billion, while simultaneously cutting the environmental harms caused by agriculture.

Discovering low-input, high-output food cultivation practices and disseminating them to small farmers across the planet will both reduce agriculture’s significant contribution to climate change and provide a healthier diet for millions of people.

It will also add to our knowledge about how what we put into our bodies contributes to how we feel and function on a daily basis, and ultimately the length of our life” (


If you would like to contribute to National Geographic’s research, here is a link to make a donation. Thanks!

Return of the Jidaigeki

22 May

I’ve mused about the connections between Star Wars and anthropology before; 1) because those connections are culturally relevant, but 2) mostly just because I like Star Wars. A lot. (If you don’t, please bear with me until we return to more “strictly speaking” anthropological topics).




Found an excellent 8-minute video called “How are Samurai Films Responsible for Star Wars?!?” this morning. It succinctly situates Star Wars in the context of 20th Century Japanese and American film history, including plenty of cross-cultural references. Highly recommended if you’re interested in Star Wars, Japanese culture, filmmaking, storytelling, etc. (Do be aware, it contains “strong language”).



Our Place in the Universe

9 Mar

Cosmos promo

Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos (1980) featured many anthropological themes and set the bar for much of the educational programming that has aired since. Hopefully, this updated version, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, will spark renewed public interest in the science of humanity!

Kryptonian Language

14 Nov

I’m a big Superman fan but, until today, didn’t realize that the producers of Man of Steel had hired linguistic anthropologist Christine Schreyer to develop a Kryptonian language for the film. Check out this story at the University of British Columbia site for details about her work.


Warner Brothers’ official Man of Steel movie site also has a “glyph generator” if you’d like to see what your name looks like in Kryptonian script. Enjoy!

Good Questions About Universal Grammar

21 Sep

Scientific American published a fascinating article about language structure and universal grammar the other day. It’s a great gateway to further readings about human language and the big questions of linguistics. Enjoy!

Hey, look at this post!

27 Mar

Did the title draw your attention to the words I’m writing now? Maybe, maybe not. It would be much easier if we were talking in person because then I could use all sorts of facial expressions, gestures, and subtle changes in tone to convey my meaning 🙂 (See how the smiley emoticon changes the “tone” of the words that precede it?)

Hand gestures and other types of nonverbal cues are a huge part of human communication. If I had to choose humanity’s most significant digit, I would choose our magnificent opposable thumbs. These, combined with our even more magnificent brains, have allowed us to manipulate our environment and transform the world around us. So I like to exclaim that “thumbs make us human!” or “brains make us human!” or “culture/language makes us human!” Undoubtedly, these things set us apart from other species, but recent research by scholars at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology argue that pointing with the index finger also makes us human. Our opposable thumbs are only “opposable” when working in conjunction with the underrated index finger – so show this finger some respect! has a nice summary article about the significance of pointing among developing infants. One highlight:

“A group of psychologists there [Max Planck] have documented that infants, beginning at around 1 year of age, point and react to other people pointing in remarkably sophisticated ways. Babies point to refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that are no longer there [JF: referred to as displacement in linguistic studies]. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else. These may just be the talents out of which humans managed to assemble minor things like culture and language.”

Check out Nicholas Day’s “How Pointing Makes Babies Human” to learn more. Enjoy!