Since Native peoples' issues often and naturally coincide with environmental concerns, Native peoples themselves must be attacked. As environmentalists are increasingly recognizing, interest in Native peoples and causes offers a convergence point where ecological issues can be creatively conceived. Native peoples' traditions are not made up by counter-culturalists or academic theorists -- they are long-standing human ways that speak to the relationship to the natural world and can form the core of a realistic discussion among broad sectors of the population. Native traditional knowledge is sometimes abused or trivialized, but it is now widely accepted as a base on which to develop a true environmental philosophy.
Jose Barreiro, Bigotshtick: Rush Limbaugh on Indians, Native Americas Journal, Fall 1995
Talk (or is it schlock?) radio
Dennis Prager, radio personality and alleged moderate, conducted an interview with Shepard Krech III, author of The Ecological Indian. First, note that Prager is a conservative masquerading as a moderate. Let's get that straight from the start.
I'd heard of The Ecological Indian but hadn't read about it, much less read it. Nevertheless, I could tell how the interview would go from the mention of "buffalo," "deer," and "beaver." And I was right.
Krech, a white anthropologist, says Indians killed more buffalo than they needed when they drove them over cliffs. Prager acts surprised by this "revelation." My response:
1) That's a fairly well-known fact, despite what Prager thinks 99% of Americans think. To pretend it's a secret the PC police have tried to conceal is nonsense.
2) The buffalo jumps were carried out by a few tribes out of many that hunted buffalo. For one thing, you had to have cliffs nearby to conduct the maneuver. Vast stretches of the Great Plains had no usable cliffs...which is probably why there weren't many buffalo jumps south of the Dakotas.
3) So what if some Indians killed, say, 50 buffalo when they needed 10...when there were still a million buffalo extant? Do conservationists use every scrap of wood and bark when they cut down a tree? Every scrap of meat and hide when they kill a cow? Do they never litter or discard a half-eaten meal?
Of course not. We don't live in that needy a society. Even the best of us wastes a little because we can.
To equate Indians killing an extra 40 buffalo to Europeans killing the remaining 999,850 buffalo (leaving 100 of 1,000,000 alive) is the worst sort of joke. It's intellectual sophistry and Prager is guilty of it. Does the word "vile" or "reprehensible" suggest anything to you?
Were the Indians comparable to today's conservationists? Hell, yes. They wasted a little because all humans do, but they didn't touch the overall supply. Their actions conserved the population even if they didn't conserve every animal.
Were the Indians comparable to today's Euro-Americans? Hell, no. The Europeans killed entire species—as in permanently extinguished them. They also clearcut 90% or more of the virgin forests they found. In no way, shape, or form were the two groups equivalent.
Deer and beaver
Krech claims the Indians of middle America almost wiped out the deer and beaver. My response:
Both these alleged cases of massive hunting happened after Europeans arrived with their colonizing culture—a fact Prager the sophist neglected to mention. In the 1700s and 1800s, especially east of the Mississippi, Indians were no longer acting on their original beliefs, uncontaminated by outside contact. They were no longer completely free agents.
The Europeans forced them to adopt a cash economy and so they adopted one to survive. If they wanted to buy guns (to defend their lives) or food (because they were forced from their bountiful homelands) they needed something to trade. The Europeans valued furs, skins, and meat. Can you guess what happened?
That's right, the Indians got co-opted into the European system. So if Indians decimated species, it was because they mimicked European culture, not because it was inherent in their own culture. If the Europeans hadn't come, the Indians wouldn't have harmed the deer or beaver populations.
Again, the conniving Prager didn't bring up these points, though they seemed obvious to me. The anthro Krech didn't sound like he had an axe to grind, but Prager sure did. Even if the three examples were valid—and none were close—they'd cover only a third or so of the continent. So where does Prager get off claiming Indians as a whole were as bad as Europeans?
Because they decimated two animal species while aping Europeans and mildly wasted one species on their own? While Europeans laid waste to flora and fauna like a nuclear holocaust? Who was it, exactly, who wiped the passenger pigeon from the face of the earth? Who came close to extinguishing the buffalo and the bald eagle, our national emblem? Who caused the Dust Bowl, the burning rivers, the eggs laced with DDT?
Native Americans? Don't think so. Look in the mirror if you want to know who, because we're still putting profits before polliwogs. Which reminds me of the massive die-off of frog species occurring now, but that's another story.
Prager's claims are a pathetic excuse for an argument, if you ask me. It's why I can't stand ideologues like him. If I were to debate Prager on these issues, I'd kick his butt all over the map. As I've just shown.
Incidentally, I just read a review of The Ecological Indian in the Indian Country Today newspaper (10/11/99). The headline states the book is propaganda. That about sums it up.
The harangue continues....
Billy and Drew talk about ecological Indians
The "inexcusable" Hopi smothering of eaglets
More on the alleged superiority of Western civilization over indigenous cultures
. . .
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