fwd: The Ecological Indian

cc136 at SPAMcornell.edu cc136 at SPAMcornell.edu
Fri May 19 00:12:32 MDT 2000

        I have been a lurker on this list for quite some time now, but
this review of "The Ecological Indian" deserves a quick and firm response
(despite the fact that I'm trying to finish a paper on the land claims
movement in BC and its relationship to industrial restructuring in the
forest products sector).
        First, de-bunking the so-called 'myth' of the ecological Indian
has become a virtual industry unto itself, with a host of books appearing
in the last few years.  Many of the authors are outright racists, or
allied with right-wing anti-ecological movements like Wise Use, or plain
ignorant.  Needless to say, I question their motives, especially when
they tend to ignore or downplay the oppression and genocide (cultural and
actual) of native peoples at the hand of European colonizers (more on
this point below).
        Second, the ecological Indian is largely a straw man constructed
to minimize the legitimacy of current native political claims to land and
resources.  I have known plenty of environmental activists who
romanticize native practices without any substantive knowledge, just as I
have known them to be vegetarians, promote solar energy, etc. without any
knowledge of the political-economic structures behind these issues.  Just
because they are ignorant doesn't mean that these values are wrong.
        Third, and more on the specific claims of the reviewer, it is
true that native societies in the deep past (thousand years ago plus) did
degrage their environments or deplete resources, one must look at whether
or not their descendents learned anything from these disasters.  If you
look at the Pueblo cultures and those of other nations who inhabit the
southwest, you will see that their myths and rituals incorporate the
theme of humanity's hubris, and the dangers resulting from it, as central
components.  The Hopi, for example, have this as a major theme - and they
have sustained their corn-centered way of life for 900 years.
        Fourth, many people have claimed that native peoples were unable
to significantly degrade their environments because of limited
technologies (the flip-side of the racist worldview).  However, when the
Lakota gained control of the horse (a significant technological
improvement over hunting on foot and buffalo-jumps), they became more,
not less, frugal with the sacred buffalo. Similarly, just because the
Makah will use rifles to hunt whales doesn't mean that they will
imprudently increase their take beyond prescribed levels.
        Fifth, critics of native ecological values often point to the fur
trade to "prove" their point that Indians were just as short-sighted and
greedy as the Europeans.  This is totally ahistorical and apolitical, and
ignores the tremendous (physical and cultural) pressure that native
peoples were under as a result of the monopolistic practices of the
European "trading companies/states" like Hudson's Bay.  If Indians were
just as ignorant, destructive and greedy as Europeans, then why were
there so many beaver, etc. in North America when the French and English
        As Parker Barss Donham has demonstrated with regard to the
conflict over the so-called "lobster wars" between the Mi'kmaqs and
commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia (in the February 2000 edition of
Canadian Dimension), these issues (whether contemporary or historical)
are subject to an incredible amount of ideological distortion.  It is our
job as Marxists to counter such crap as vigorously as possible.  I hope I
have taken a small step in this direction.

        Chris Carrick
        Cornell University
        PhD Candidate
        Department of City and Regional Planning

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