Regarding Native Americans and Poison Oak sensitivity: From a justice standpoint I like the speculation about telling the whites they should smoke it. However, at least in parts of California, the people did not avoid poison oak. Baskets (including food baskets) were made with the stems by several peoples in Central California. The Karok (and probably others in northwestern CA) used the twigs as spits for smoking salmon steaks, and the leaves for covering bulbs being cooked in an earth oven.
The Karok claim that they are not affected by it. According to the Yuki, full-blooded Indians are immune, but half-white folks are not.
Curtin, Leonora Scott. 1957. "Some Plants Used by the Yuki Indians of Round Valley, Northern California." Masterkey. 31: 40-8, 85-94.
Merrill, Ruth E. 1923. "Plants Used in Basketry by the California Indians." Univ. of Cal. Publ. in Am. Archaeology and Ethnography. 20: 235.
Schenck, Sara M. and E.W. Gifford. 1911?. "Karok Ethnobotany." Anthropological Records. 13: 385.
Some of the Karok would eat a small leaf each year to confer immunity, but this may be a post-contact development, and might only refer to people of mixed blood. The informant who gave this information agreed with Schenk and Gifford's other informant that the Karok were not sensitive to it.
> But I'll update the site to include this info, that the Karok and Yuki Indians
> were immune in general.
Or claimed to be. It is possible that the immunity is exaggerated in the telling as one of the things that separates the "strong, healthy" (and proud of it) full-blooded Californians vs. the "weak, sickly" half-blooded. It does seem clear that the sensitivity was lower than that of most of us, though.
> I bet *some* of them weren't so lucky though, but
> I have no idea.)
My feeling, too. I'm guessing that the percentage of California natives sensitive to urushiol is drastically lower than Euro-americans, but not zero. I came across figures somewhere that approximately 80% of "people" were sensitive from first exposure, and that about 90% of the rest of us who start out immune eventually develop sensitivity.
NOTE: I am way, way, way, way behind on answering my e-mail. If you have comments, I welcome them, but if you have questions, please know that you will probably not get a response in a timely manner. I'm very sorry about this.
Poison Oak FAQ
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