Re: sustaining (fwd)

Bret Diamond (diam9018@TAO.SOSC.OSSHE.EDU)
Wed, 17 May 1995 12:03:59 -0700

Forwarded message:
>From diam9018 Wed May 17 11:17:42 1995
Subject: Re: sustaining
Date: Wed, 17 May 1995 11:17:42 -0700 (PDT)
In-Reply-To: <> from "Mr John Ford" at May 17, 95 07:02:55 pm
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On 5/17/95 John Ford writes:

> Some of the latest posts concerning the sustainability by 'native'
> peoples are somewhat disturbing because of the inherent racist meanings
> that lie behind the rationale.
> And like the 'few' who identify the sublities and ambiguities with which
> racist discourse surrounds itself I too wish to point out some of those
> attitudes. I hasten to add that I hold myself no way superior to those
> who I criticise - I too have been guilty of like minded thinking.

If there is any racist discourse to be found in this argument, I believe
it is on behalf of those who insist that their etic perspective of
native/indigenous ecology is superior to that of the emic perspective.

> In one post we are told that native people are being used as 'stewards' to
> look after the country because we, westerners, have screwed up the place.
> Am I being informed that, yet again, indigenous people are being used as
> our (Western) 'cleaners' - that they are being paid to clean up the mess?
> Do doubt native people are 'being seen to be useful', but to hoist onto
> them the responsibility of the problems we have created is a tad over the
> top.

I believe that you are referring to the Takelma Intertribal Project that
I am involved with, again you are resorting to your outsider's point of
view that sees their stewardship as "using" the Takelma to "clean up our
mess." While it may be true that they are indeed cleaning up our mess,
they feel an obligation to their ancestral lands and this project was
created and initiated by the Takelma people themselves. Again, if we can
remove ourselves from our eurocentric perspective, we can acknowledge the
fact that to the Takelma our 150 year presence on the land is but a flash
in time compared to their 3,000 years or so of habitation. They perhaps
see themselves as the landlords cleaning up the mess left behind by a bad
tenant. But it is unfair and, quite frankly, ignorant to suggest that
the Takelma people are being used.

> Further, I wonder where native people have got the idea that they lived
> in harmony with their environment. Indigenous Australians to whom I talk
> also have this idea - 'keeping the country clean'. But I am also informed
> that this is a load of nonsense - it is politically motivated to capture
> environmentalism. Aborigines burnt the country to make catching food a
> whole lot easier - not because the country would look pretty.

Mr. Ford, are you an aboriginal, or are you again applying a limited,
ethnocentric perspective that supports your etic view of native ecology?
How do you know what the aborigines intentions were?

> There is also a disturbing trend to incorporate, ever so subtlety, new age
> thinking - sustainablity is about spiritual awareness. I reminded of
> Marlow Morgan's book Mutuant Message Down Under where she is suppose to
> have lived with a hitherto 'lost tribe' of Aborigines who taught her so
> many secrets which we, in western society, are so bereft.

Science continues to downplay the significance of a spiritual connection
to the land because the self-imposed parameters of empirical data
gathering don't allow for a broader interpretation of the importance of
the spiritual world to native peoples.

> These beliefs/attitudes exoticise the 'other'. Indigenous people appear more
> authentic, more in tune with 'nature' more spiritually aware that 'us'.
> It is a short step from there to the underlying perception is that 'they'
> are therefore somehwo genitically different to other 'races'.

Since when do levels of spiritual awareness suggest genetic
superiority/inferiority? Are environmentalists genetically differant
from loggers? I thought that this type of argument was eliminated in the
late 1800's.

> Then there is the idea that science and technology has created the hell
> which indigenous people are apparently to fix up. Science and technology
> did not create the mess - people did. Political and ideological decisions
> are responsible together with the general apathetic response from the
> silent majority who go along with crass consumerism. We choose not to use
> science and technology to 'fix' the problem. (Although there are
> outbreaks of this happening - and its to be encouraged). Generally, and
> political it is expedient, to utilise all those 'others' to fix the problem.

I partially agree with you here, except that I believe that science and
technology remain focused on what is profitable rather than what is
environmentally sound. To suggest that "we" are "choosing" not to use
science and technology to fix the problem is not an acurrate assessment.
The lion's share of the funding goes towards creating new and profitable
products, not towards cleaning up the mess.