Hollywood images and romantic environmentalism would have us see American Indians as so in harmony with nature they left no mark on it. A Sierra Club book about forestry claims, "For many thousands of years, most of the indigenous nations on this continent practiced a philosophy of protection first and use second of the forest." According to former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, "The Indians were, in truth, the pioneer ecologists of this country." Calling for an environmental ethic patterned after that of Native Americans, Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) quoted words allegedly spoken by 19th-century Indian Chief Seattle: "Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand of it."
This image of a Native American environmental ethic, however appealing, is more myth than reality. The actual history of Native American resource use does not always mesh with the spiritual environmental ethos attributed to them. By focusing on myth instead of reality, environmentalists patronize American Indians and neglect the lessons of their rich institutional heritage encouraging resource conservation.
The impression that American Indians were guided by a unique environmental ethic often can be traced to the speech widely attributed to Chief Seattle in 1854. But Chief Seattle never said those oft-quoted words.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Truth or Fiction?
There are very few examples of the "noble savage" out there. I'm guessing most people in history have been pretty much like us--not in culture, perhaps, but certainly in personality and actions: