Re: Indigenous folks protect environment?

Alx V. Dark (avd5863@IS.NYU.EDU)
Wed, 21 Sep 1994 12:30:30 -0400

On Tue, 20 Sep 1994, Rick Wilk wrote:

> In reference to Marius Johnson, I am not advocating a "cover up."
> . . . . Why do WE have a duty to publish our interpretations of
> SOMEONE ELSE'S past, especially when that interpretation may cause
> immediate and lasting harm. . . .
> I speak from hard experience here. I once published what I saw as simple
> truthful ethnohistory, and within 2 years saw my interpretations used as
> "facts" to bolster denying a land claim made by the people I worked with.
> Rick Wilk

I agree with this completely and I would add two other points, the first
being that many of these discussions of "the first ecologists" tend
to focus on groups of people such as "Anasazi" or "Haida" or "Yanomami,"
when in fact individuals from each of these groups express different
understandings and interests in conservation issues. Thus one member of
a society may consider it to be of paramount importance to develop
local/reservation resources to address local poverty, while another may feel
the conservation of these resources is essential to maintaining cultural
identity. Both are operating, of course, from within a specific cultural
framework and both have noble enough reasons for pursuing such courses of

The second is that there is too much of a tendency to draw upon a pre-
contact past to characterize the complex relationships to the land that
contemporary native peoples must negotiate today. How people hunted or
farmed or gathered in the past may or may not be a central issue in how
people are responding to environmental crises today. Other cultural
factors such as political structure or attachment to a specific place,
for example, may be the more important issues for native peoples today.

As anthropologists, I think we can most usefully intervene in these
discussions by insisting that people do not have to be taken as
either "just like us" (which would be? Wilk rightfully points out that
this comparison is best made to the multinational corporations in charge
of natural resource extraction industries) or "natural conservationists."

Along these lines, I recommend a book by George Wenzel, _Animal_Rights,_
Human_Rights_ (University of Toronto Press), which rather asks what
kinds of presuppositions about indigenous peoples are held by well-
intending animal rights activists that lead them to misunderstand and
simplify contemporary indigenous relationships to the environment.

______________________________ ____________________________
Alx V. Dark Department of Anthropology
internet: New York University
"Wash your brains, think 25 Waverly Place
again, double check" -- H3O New York, NY 10003 USA