Were All American Indians Ecologists Or Is That A Myth?

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Here are three approaches examining this query:

1) A Book Report By MARK S. FLEISHER of THE ECOLOGICAL INDIAN Myth and History. By Shepard Krech 3d.318 pp. New York:W. W. Norton & Company. Imagine a life with nothing manufactured, with yourself starting from scratch and being forced to build everything you need out of natural resources, exploiting rivers, lakes, oceans and forests for food without significantly altering the landscape. We learned as kids that American Indians lived off the land in perfect harmony with nature, never taking too much or destroying rivers, grassland or forests more than they had to. Native American people are indeed the thoughtful consumers of native animals and plants, exploiting the landscape in careful, deliberate ways. Never would they overexploit buffalo herds or cut too many trees or use fire inappropriately. The American Indians truly understand what it means to live off the land. Right? Wrong, says Shepard Krech 3d in ''The Ecological Indian: Myth and History.'' Our notion of the Native American as the Ecological Indian, keeper and preserver of the environment, is merely an image fashioned by mythmakers -- some nave, others manipulative. If we look closely, he says, the image is unsubstantiated. His book is a well-researched, carefully written exploration of how Indians used and abused the environment and how our beliefs about them, shaped by cultural perceptions, have created a largely stereotypic image of real people. I spent the middle and late 1970's among Salish and Nootkan people on the Northwest Coast, conducting ethnographic and linguistic fieldwork as a graduate student and then as a fledgling assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University. I vividly recall transcribing the Salish language Clallam and the Nootkan languages Hesquiat and Makah, spoken by tribal elders born at the turn of the century. I recorded hundreds of vocabulary items for animals, fishing and hunting techniques and accompanying rituals, and enjoyed native myths about how the world of humans and animals meshed in practical and mythic harmony for thousands of years of habitation at the edge of densely wooded forests on Washington's Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island's western seacoast south of Nootka Sound. I had no time then to question how Europeans and European-Americans conceptualized native people and their relationship to the environment. Nor did I wonder if elderly informants' statements about their treatment of the environment in the ''olden days'' were an accurate depiction of a lost life style. Krech, an anthropologist at Brown University, examines specific ecological issues and dissects each one into cultural and factual components. Did American Indians kill too many buffalo? If they did, why? Did they cut too many trees, and why? What was the effect? Did American Indians really inhabit a lush countryside, an Eden? Krech helps us understand these issues by separating facts from myths. There were so few American Indians on so much land that Europeans, accustomed to crowded spaces, perceived only paradise when they saw lightly peopled landscapes. Nor did the early Europeans see the abandoned, over exploited landscapes. Not only did Europeans interpret what they saw through a lens biased by a Western life style, they had little understanding of the cultural complexities of the Indians or of how Indians' views of animals, plants and forces of nature affected what we now see as over exploitation and abuse of the land. To understand the reality of American Indian use of animals and plants, we have to grasp basic cultural premises, Krech says, beginning with the pervasive theme that religion and economy are not separate. This means animals take on qualities similar to those ascribed to supernatural beings. Buffalo on the plains and salmon on the Northwest Coast were addressed as sentient beings capable of seeing, hearing and responding to us in different ways. If Plains Indians did not kill all of the buffalo forced over a ''jump'' -- a precipice over which they were herded -- the surviving buffalo and those avoiding the jump would ''tell'' other buffalo, warning them away and leaving the people hungry and without skins for clothing. Overkilling (as we see it) guaranteed future bounty (as they see it). I recall attending a First Salmon ceremony, when the skeleton of a salmon roasted on ironwood stakes and shared by community members was designated as the ''first'' salmon of the season and was carried by elders to the local river, wrapped like a baby in a blanket and placed gently on the water and allowed to drift back to the ocean. The skeleton, reborn at sea, would instruct his fellow salmon on the spawning route, thus insuring another bountiful harvest. Krech presents evidence sufficient to peel away beliefs from facts until finally the concept of the Ecological Indian as ecologist and conservationist erodes. This book is a good story and first-rate social science, but it is not without passion. Transforming American Indian cultures into the cliche of the Ecological Indian makes Krech angry. Such stereotyping betrays an unabashed disregard for the complexity of native cultures. Creating the Ecological Indian is like reducing the knowledge and artistic creations of Europeans and European-Americans for 5,000 years to a brief essay called ''Civilization.'' This book teaches us everything we have wanted to know about American Indians and the environment. But as an anthropologist and criminologist, I see that the cultural processes that created the Ecological Indian are still at work today. What white American society thinks it ''knows'' about American Indians is largely that society's cultural invention, untested by empirical science. This mythmaking is convenient, portable and can be used anytime, anywhere. It is also dangerous. Even positive stereotypes can be degrading. The ''Injun'' was the bloodthirsty savage we baby boomers grew up with on television. American culture uses degrading stereotypes to demonize what it dislikes, fears or simply does not understand; witness the American Indians and African-Americans. And the public now supports politicians' empirically unjustified stereotype of troubled youngsters as threatening street demons and, as if in a cultural stupor, allows the imprisonment of children in penitentiaries. Beyond the scholarly view of Native Americans, Krech's book quietly pleads that we continually test our cultural vision against reality, lest we simplify ourselves to a set of stereotypes and lose forever the vibrancy of American multicultural community life.

2)Native Americans and the Environment: A survey of twentieth century issues with particular reference to peoples of the Colorado Plateau and Southwest (page 9 of 10) Author: David Rich Lewis. Adapted from: Lewis, David R. 1995. "Native Americans and the Environment: A survey of twentieth century issues." American Indian Quarterly, 19: 423-450, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Visit the University of Nebraska Press website at nebraskapress.unl.edu/. Stereotypes and Interests in Conflict In recent years, tribal land use - including their resistance to submitting to certain state and federal environmental regulations - has put Indians at odds with environmentalists. This turn of events emerges as Indians begin placing immediate needs and desires over older cultural regulatory patterns, shattering both traditional standards of behavior and static white stereotypes of Indians as "the original conservationists." Indeed, early environmentalists found inspiration in Native American cultures. Some was richly deserved while much was based on a cultural misinterpretation of a more complex and dynamic whole. The grosser stereotypes depicted Indians as beings without action or agency, who left no mark on the land, who lived within the strictest of natural constraints. These ideas unintentionally denied Native Americans their humanity, culture, history, and most importantly, their modernity.

This stereotypic vision blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s. Indians became symbols for the American counterculture, American environmentalism, and New Age mysticism - symbols for a way of life in opposition to urban, white, Christian, techno-industrial society. Iron Eyes Cody shedding a tear in television ads as he surveyed a polluted landscape, and an apocryphal speech written as a film script and attributed to Chief Seattle made Indians "the mascot of an international ecology movement." Native peoples fostered this facile view for its positive results. Yet in the end the images offered more a justified critique of industrial society than any critical understanding of Native peoples' complex interactions with the environment. Even the highly touted motion picture Dances With Wolves (1990) is a sensitive if misleading dance with mythology, using Indians and animals as environmental symbols to attack twentieth-century human-nature relationships. Stereotypic images persist to the detriment of Native Americans because the images relegate them to a "past" and misdirect non-Indian society's responses to modern Native peoples and issues.

Indians were never properly "ecologists" - a term referring to a highly abstract and systematic science. They were, however, careful students of their functional environments, bound by material and cultural needs and constraints, striving for maximum sustained yield rather than maximum production, yet unafraid to exploit moments of periodic abundance. They developed an elaborate land ethic based on long-term experience, tied to a cosmological view of the world with all its animate and inanimate, natural and supernatural inhabitants as an interrelated whole. They recognized that they were part of creation and acted accordingly. Land and place were central to survival, to their beliefs, to their very identity. They shaped their environments which, in turn, shaped them. Their population densities and technologies, subsistence strategies and beliefs mitigated perhaps the worst environmental degradations, but did not leave the natural environment or ecology of their regions untouched. They lived, they acted, they are, and oversimplified or romantic stereotypes should not deny them that complex human experience past or present.

3)“Collapse” by Jared Diamond, Penguin books, 2005. Professor Diamond evaluates the way societies have failed or succeeded, including the early American Indians who have been often portrayed as ecologists when they were a mixture of both the best and sometimes far less than we would expect, in the way they used and misused their resources. When speaking the truth from scientific evaluations it isn’t surprising that he has come under fire from those who perpetuate the myth. Here are some of his observations. “Efforts to understand past collapses have had to confront one major controversy and four complications. The controversy involves resistance to the idea that past peoples (some of them known to be ancestral to peoples currently alive and vocal) did things that contributed to their own decline.We are much more conscious of environmental damage now than we were a mere few decades ago.Even signs in hotel rooms now invoke love of the environment to make us feel guilty if we demand fresh towels or let the water run. To damage the environment today is considered morally culpable. Not surprisingly, Native Hawaiians and Moaris don’t like paleontologists telling them that their ancestors exterminated half of the bird species that had evolved on Hawaii and New Zealand, nor so Native Americans like archeologists telling them that the Anasazi deforested parts of the southwestern U.S. The supposed discoveries by paleontologists and archeologists sound to some listeners like just one more racist pretext advanced by whites for dispossessing indigenous peoples. It’s as if scientists were saying, “Your ancestors were bad stewards of their lands, so they deserved to be dispossessed.” Some American and Australian whites, resentful of government payments and land retributions to Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, do indeed seize on the discoveries to advance that argument today.Not only indigenous peoples, but also some anthropologists and archeologists who study them and identify with them,view the recent supposed discoveries as racist lies. Some of the indigenous peoples and the anthropologists identifying with them go to the opposite extreme. They insist that past indigenous peoples were (and modern ones still are) gentle and ecologically wise stewards of their environments, intimately knew and respected Nature, innocently lived in a virtual Garden of Eden, and could never have done all those bad things; As a New Guinea hunter once told me, “If one day I succeed in shooting a big pigeon in one direction from our village, I wait a week before hunting pigeons again, and then go out in the opposite direction from the village.”Only those evil modern First World inhabitants are ignorant of Nature, don’t respect the environment, and destroy it. In fact, both extreme sides in this controversy—the racists and the believers in a past Eden—are committing the error of viewing the past indigenous peoples fundamentally different from (whether inferior to or superior to) Modern First World peoples. Managing environmental resources sustainability has always been difficult, ever since Homo sapiens developed modern inventiveness, efficiency, and hunting skills around 50, 000 years ago. Beginning with the first human colonization of the Australian continent around 46, 000 years ago, and subsequent prompt extinction of most of Australia’s former giant marsupials and other large animals, every human colonization of a land mass formerly lacking humans—whether of Australia, North America, South America, Madagascar, the Mediterranean islands, or Hawaii and New Zealand and dozens of other Pacific islands—has been followed by a wave of extinction of large animals that had evolved without fear of humans and were easy to kill, or else succumbed to human associated habitat changes, introduced pest species, and diseases.”

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Final Day 40th Reunion Class of 1964

  Final Day 40th Reunion Class of 1964 (Click to expand photo of Denny, Dan, and Rich)

We slowly made our way following the crowd back to the center of the city to our hotel. In a major intersection a gathering of supporters for John Kerry for President passed out literature for the election only three days away. I had the opportunity to speak with an organizer, “I‘m here for a reunion and glad to say I am not alone in supporting Kerry.”

“I’m so happy to hear that” she responded with a smile. “You can’t imagine how many angry swift boat types are slandering his name and telling lies about his medals in this campaign. Please try to inform them of these gross distortions of his record. Here’s a leaflet describing the dirty tricks campaign launched by them. Thanks for your support.” The flyer mentioned that the Kerry presidential campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that ads from an anti-Kerry veterans’ group are inaccurate and “illegally coordinated” with Republicans and the Bush-Cheney campaign.

They showed Swift Boat Veterans For Truth in their latest ad selected quotes from Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. In the SBVT ad, Kerry says, “They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads,” “randomly shot at civilians,” and “razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn.”The ad deceptively ignores Kerry's preface, recounting that he is reporting what other military personnel said at a Vietnam Veteran’s conference. Instead, a swift boat group member falsely refers to the statements as “accusations” Kerry made against Vietnam Vets. An official transcript showed that Kerry referred to a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, of the Winter Soldier investigation. He told the Senate committee that veterans had testified to war crimes and relived the “absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.”

(John Kerry with his crew)

In the swift boat commercials, former sailors also falsely accused Kerry of lying in order to receive two of his five combat decorations, a Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. The ad featured a sailor who commanded one of five swift boats in the Mekong Delta during an incident March 13, 1969. Kerry earned decorations for his involvement and that sailor himself earned a Bronze Star in the incident, yet said, “Kerry's boat fled after a mine crippled another boat and was not under enemy fire when he returned to rescue an Army officer knocked overboard by a second mine that detonated nearby.”

(John Kerry and others Vets discuss Vietnam with members of Congress)

However, in contrast the Navy citation for the sailor’s Bronze Star stated “all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks.” Kerry also received a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for other actions the ad overlooked. The Navy's letter awarding Kerry the Bronze Star states that Kerry exhibited “great personal courage under fire” in rescuing an Army Green Beret Lieutenant, who recommended Kerry for the decoration and who has publicly disputed the sailor’s account of what happened that day. He said Kerry wrote the report that was the basis for the citation even though officer, Lt. Cmdr. George Elliot, signed the document.

In response, the Kerry campaign published its own ad that featured the Green Beret Lt., a registered Republican, saying Kerry saved his life, “All these Viet Cong were shooting at me, I expected I'd be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.” This deceptive campaign designed to impugn Kerry angered me and I feared the Republican tricks could detract from his campaign and mislead the public. But his campaign failed to adequately react to the scurrilous media  attack with equal ferocity.

(Kerry Campaign made the truth available to counter Swift Boat lies)

My eldest son, Aleksey, was a resident neurosurgeon at Case Western University Hospital and had participated in organizing the “Doctor’s for Kerry” group in Cleveland. He and his wife,  Desiree, a resident pediatrician at the same hospital, had first row seats for his final speech before Election Day. As I saw these hopeful people trying their best to counter the Bush-Cheney-Rove machine in the city where I’d been indoctrinated in the failed Vietnam policies, I thought our country faced a moment of immense importance. Could these false advertisements mislead enough people to allow the Bush administration to continue ravaging the Middle East and expose our military to more needless death while the treasury depletes the reserves the Clinton presidency established with a balanced budget? The dominoes did not fall "their way" throughout South East Asia when we lost Vietnam, so how could Bush,  and his advisers, believe we would win in Iraq?

“Isn’t this as bad as Vietnam?” Kerry reminded us during his speech before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations April 23, 1971, “Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war." We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Those words sounded pertinent to the present conflict in Iraq. How can presidents and their administrations intentionally mislead the American people and so flagrantly trample upon the cherished principles of honesty, integrity, and the concept that war should always come as the last resort after exhausting all peaceful avenues?

When I learned that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution followed from a report of a fabricated phantom attack on the high seas to a docile and believing Congress that sent enormous number of young uniformed military people to their death, not to mention the two million Vietnamese, my cynicism over the political process began to grow. Unless the American people can withstand the fraudulent Republican campaign that uses any artifice to maintain their hammerlock on power, we seem bound to intervene in one military adventure after another without legal justification. The Bush administration convinced me their “Shock and Awe” display of brutal military air power in the beginning of the Iraq war made them the most dangerous crowd on the face of the earth.

The famous Mahatma Gandhi quotation seems pertinent: “The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles.” Gandhi had described the Bush-Cheney-Rove team as if he had a 20-20 view from the grave.

My civil rights background, and years of battling against mean-spirited people, constituted my small contribution to prevent powerful forces from destroying everything valuable in our society. If Bush won this election, a most undeserving, unqualified, and disastrous future awaited the world for the next four years. While enjoying the lavish tailgate party, not even the aroma of garlic, herbs, fresh oysters, clam chowder, and Bloody Mary cocktails deflected me from my feeling of doom hanging over the upcoming election, like a tidal wave ready to sweep away the caring and intelligent people committed to non-violence.

(Denny Lyndon, Dan, and John Palombi share a laugh and stories at the reunion dinner)Click to expand

That evening at the Twentieth Company dinner party at the Annapolis Yacht Club Tom Hawk, one of my roommates during my second-class year, responded to my question about his Vietnam experience,“I came to love the Vietnamese people during my assignment there and became opposed to the Vietnam War for many reasons, including the racism against the Vietnamese shown by the way our armed forces treated them, the immoral conduct of the war, and the failed policies of prosecuting an endless civil war we seemed bound to eventually lose. I learned much of the language and culture, which made me love the people all the more."

(Jan and Larry Robinson at the Twentieth Company Dinner)Click to expand

“Did you leave the Navy after your tour?”

“Yes and enrolled at Harvard for my MBA.”

“I’ll bet you saw some strong dissent against the war there.”

“Yes, and I joined anti-war groups on campus along with many other vets, some of whom graduated from Annapolis. I earned my PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in Strategic Planning and helped found a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Frostburg, Maryland where I teach as a professor of management in their MBA Program.”

(Dan in front of Tecumseh covered with war paint for the football game)Click to expand

My former Plebe roommate Denny Lyndon and his wife Kathy and Rich Umfrid and his wife of the same name earlier in the day, wandered the Annapolis Yard past the Chapel and into Bancroft Hall. While visiting the model room shown to the public away from the notorious plebe hazing there, I asked, Denny, “What did you do after your tour of duty as a submariner ended?”

(At Bancroft Hall a model midshipman's room was on display)Click to expand

“I decided to end my naval commitment and earned my MBA at Harvard in Tom’s class. I agree with both you and Tom that the President Johnson made a great blunder in his conduct of the Vietnam War as Bush did in Iraq.”

“Rich, tell me what you did after you left the Navy?”

“I went to Rutgers and obtained a medical degree and ended up with the Mayo clinic after a number of years working as a heart surgeon in Phoenix Arizona. I actually attended to our classmate, Peyton Dobbins who suffered a heart attack while I practiced medicine in the San Francisco Bay area.”

The reunion confirmed many graduates of the Academy found productive lives away from the military as soon as possible where they flourished and earned advanced degrees including all my roommates. Despite the rosy picture of those who left the service, the reunion yearbook revealed a large number of our classmates played major roles in active combat duty in Vietnam, and many died there. That War nearly tore our country apart and convinced me like nothing else, that we must build a coalition of humanists who object to sending our military to foreign lands to fight wars of counterinsurgency that do not directly affect our nation’s real interests.


(20th Company men stood together at the Dinner)Click to expand

(Wives of the 20th Company men are an impressive group)Click to expand

The build up to the enormous commitment of Army and Marine troops, Naval warships, and aircraft, as well as the Air Force aircraft prosecuting the Vietnam War  involved a patriotic drumbeat from the media. They glorified combat roles and supported the military objectives the administration hammered away claiming the dominoes would tumble if we did not stop communism there. The administration told us we needed to protect a weak democratic country’s freedom, when the truth was they were a weak unpopular dictatorship of puppets, many of whom cooperated with the Japanese in WWII.

(Denny Lyndon perusing the names of those who gave their lives while performing Naval Service)Click to expand

After far too many broken promises, horrors of B-52 carpet-bombing, anti personnel weapons, the Phoenix program of pacification, and the My Lai massacre, the American people watched their leaders continue the drumbeat of military insanity and desecration of our finest principles. Until enough people protested against such madness to convince them to bring most of the troops home and end the fighting, they would continue to follow orders based on false premises, and many people would die tragically for spurious reasons.

(20th company classmates with wives, have a meal at the Naval Academy Mess Hall. To see Denny threaten to throw a cup of yogurt laughingly, click to expand)

The Berkeley confrontation with friends in graduate school who had been to Norman Mailer’s Vietnam Day speech, forced me to start the process of breaking out of my indoctrinated and conservative personality long enough to listen to views I had not encountered, nor seriously considered. The change in point of view helped me understand I needed to develop an independent consciousness, rather than depend on the media or the military to inform me.  Articles, books, magazines, and authors who challenged the assumptions on which the Vietnam debacle was based awakened me to  re-evaluate my life and seek another way to find meaning for my future.

I began as a law student and worked my way through three years of law study, graduated, passed the bar exam, obtained an attorney license, and represented clients who sought social justice for migrant farm workers that put me on a course towards my goal. The obstacles I had overcome, the blind alleys I had taken, made me appreciate participating in a cause I believed in with my whole being. My motivation came from giving freely of my time to enforce civil rights because it energized my every hour.

“There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s inspirational words, Indian spiritual leader 1869-1948. a href="http://domainsigma.com/whois/danielclavery.com">Danielclavery.com Trust

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