Aboriginal Overkill...Environmentalism

Jim Rotholz (63190881@WSUVM1.CSC.WSU.EDU)
Tue, 2 May 1995 15:03:41 PDT

I agree with the point made by Bret Diamond (5/2/95) that habitat destruction
is a growing problem. But he has mistakenly associated my comments with the
Wise Use Movement. My point is simply that environmental agendas have created
a type of discourse in which the pre-colonial past is envisioned in terms which
are inconsistnet with the archeological and ethnographic record. Nature is
considered to have been "pure" (Roy Ellen's term) and aboriginal peoples are
thought to have had negligable impacts upon their environments. What I argue
against is a norm for "wilderness" which entails viewing humans as an
"unnatural" part of the equation. Environmentalism has reified ecosystems
and come to view culture as extraneous to their normal functioning.

Bret Diamond writes: There is substantive evidence to show that indigenous
people did/do live more in balance with nature than we do now. Some studies
show that indigenous people behave "destructively" toward their respective
environments (for example, Roy Ellen 1993 and Paul Sillitoe 1993). But Bret's
use of the phrase "in balance with nature" reveals precisely the type of
environmental discourse that I contend is a western cultural construction
parading itself as good science. Nature is not a given that culture comes
along to write itself upon. Culture and nature are, in the words of Tim Ingold,
"mutually constituted." Each shapes and is shaped by the other. They are
actively engaged in the ongoing formation of one another. Contributions to
this topic by Ingold, Ellen, and Sillitoe are contained in a volume edited by
Kay Milton called Environmentalism: The View From Anthropology. I recommend it
to anyone interested.

Jim Rotholz