Re: Indigenous Greed?

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Tue, 7 Mar 1995 21:07:41 +1000

Bret Diamond writes:
> Ah yes, the perpetuation of yet another myth about the
> "backwardness" of native peoples. Danny Yee writes about the
> unsustainability of swidden horticulture as practiced by many indigenous
> groups for thousands of years.

I made a very specific claim about swidden agriculture *in Polynesia*,
based on a secondary source which I named (e.g. Kirch's _The Wet and
the Dry_); Cameron Laird offered another source (the Science article).
There's no point beating me over the head with:

> Biologists, Anthropologists, and Soil
> Scientists, (among others) have published numerous reports dispelling the
> myth that swidden horticulture is not sustainable.

Read my sources and refute them, or give me more concrete references.

> The key factor in its
> success, is a large enough area of land in order to provide for
> sufficiant rotations/fallow periods for the land to recover. As the
> available land supply diminishes, so does the viability of swidden
> techniques.

At least in Polynesia, there *isn't enough land for this to work*.
Capitalist extractive procedures would probably work fine with infinite
resources too.

[ Note that I am *not* saying that there are no differences between
the two!! Mining by Australian phosphate companies did more damage
to Nauru in a few decades than any of the Polynesians managed to do to
their islands in millenia. ]

> But again, we need to remember that these people are merely
> trying to feed themselves, not buy a new Lexus or put a down payment on a
> ski condo at Vail.

> I believe that if we are to have any hope for our future, we need
> to reexamine the ways that we use the earth. We have the potential to
> learn a lot from native peoples that have 20 or 30 thousand years of on
> the job training.

No argument here. But creating a dichotomy whereby everything "native
peoples" did/do is good and everything "we" do is bad isn't going to help
this process at all.

Danny Yee,
who would retire now if he had enough for the down payment on a ski condo.