Re: Advocates or Critics?

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUNIX.WSU.EDU)
Fri, 12 May 1995 07:33:22 -0700

Having myself lived among and studied a small horticulturalist-hunter
group in Papua New Guinea among whom I could detect no eco-consciousness
and who seem to be in semi-balance with their environment only by dint of
low population, I came away feeling that if I want to serve as an
advocate for them, or other groups like them, I had better put my money
somewhere other than in the "wise custodians of the environment" theory.
That theory simply sets them up for a fall. As does the notion that they
hold the key to amazing rainforest medicines that will revolutionalize
health care. Vulnerable tribal indigenous peoples should have full human
rights and legal rights as human beings and according to general
principles of land ownership, not as exemplars of Western ideals that
westerners have failed to live up to. So far, in Papua New Guinea, they
do; but their political strength is minimal and I fear for the future.

As far as my general stand on advocacy goes, I would tend to agree with
Diane that its contingent on the case in question. I too would want to be
free to study the militia movement (for example) without becoming its

Harriet Whitehead
Anthropology WSU