Re: PC natives and environmental change

wilkr (wilkr@INDIANA.EDU)
Fri, 12 May 1995 15:43:25 -0500

In response to James Carucci -

I appreciate your careful anaylsis and measured tones. But I would add,

Let us not forget the political purposes that our work is likely to be
used for.

I am not calling for censorship. There are some very good measured
critiques of notions of harmony and stewardship among so-called
"primitives" (Edgerton's "Sick Societies" comes immediately to mind.).
There are also some good recent arguments that many of the classic
anthropological studies of indigenous 'pathology' (like the warlike
Yanomamo and the isolated !Kung) were actually describing imbalances
caused by European expansion or external destabilization.

But outside the discipline there are people who are ready to use our
words as a rationale for

1. taking away or continuing to deny indigenous peoples the rights to
control their own resources

2. continuing to destroy and despoil our own resources.

Don't forget this is the day that the Congress takes initial votes on the
new "Dirty Water Act." ! I well remember about 8 years ago standing up
during a discussion of a BLM land management plan, arguing for the
preservation of some semblance of the old-growth in the Lincoln national
forest, and being answered by a bureaucrat who had read A. Terry Rambo's
book "Primitive Polluters" who argued that the forest had always been

I also remember students standing up in an introductory anthropology
class, when I had lectured about the large-scale destruction of natural
resources during the 1880s in the southwest, and having them read to me
from a tract distributed by a right-wing sagebrush rebellion group, which
again said basically "the Indians trashed the landscape, so why shouldn't
we." I have also had students argue that it is unfair to discuss
industrial destruction and pollution without giving "equal time" to the
destructive ways of non-western people.

Again, I am not arguing for censorship. It is absolutely essential that
we continue to study pre-western systems of land modification,
instensification, and environmental manipulation. But if we stress only
their destructive aspects, we are piling dry wood on a fire, and we
should not be surprised when our eyebrows get singed. There has to be
some balance in the story of prewestern human/land interactions..


Rick Wilk

Richard Wilk Anthropology Dept.
812-855-8162 (voice) Indiana University
812-855-4358 (fax) Bloomington, IN 47405