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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Seed-Eaters and Chert-Carriers: The Economic Basis for Continuity in Historic Western Shoshone Identities


By "historic Western Shoshone identities," I refer to those I found in a short but intensive and productive six-week field season in summer of 1989. I call these identities historic, rather than contemporary, because they do not seem to be products of contemporary political conditions. Rather, they seem to either have arisen or persisted during the historic period, ca. 1880 to the present. Some might call this the "reservation period," but since less than 40% of the Western Shoshone population was living on reservations until well into the 1970s, that designation is somewhat inappropriate. These identities were aboriginal, but that is not the point I wish to stress. Steward (1938: 248) flatly denied these identities had any significance. My purpose, then, is to ascertain why they persisted during a period in which they would be expected to disappear, or why they became more important when, if Steward was right, they had not been so aboriginally.

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