Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

Synopsis

Native Americans and the Environment brings together an interdisciplinary group of prominent scholars whose works continue and complicate the conversations that Shepard Krech started in The Ecological Indian. Hailed as a masterful synthesis and yet assailed as a problematic political tract, Shepard Krech's work prompted significant discussions in scholarly communities and among Native Americans. Rather than provide an explicit assessment of Krech's thesis, the contributors to this volume explore related historical and contemporary themes and subjects involving Native Americans and the environment, reflecting their own research and experience. At the same time, they also assess the larger issue of representation. The essays examine topics as divergent as Pleistocene extinctions and the problem of storing nuclear waste on modern reservations. They also address the image of the "ecological Indian" and its use in natural history displays alongside a consideration of the utility and consequences of employing such a powerful stereotype for political purposes. The nature and evolution of traditional ecological knowledge is examined, as is the divergence between belief and practice in Native resource management. Geographically, the focus extends from the eastern Subarctic to the Northwest Coast, from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains to the Great Basin.

Excerpt

Judith Antell

When Michael Harkin, Brian Hosmer, and I discussed proposing the “Refiguring the Ecological Indian” conference to the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center for its tenth annual symposium (2002), we believed the topic of Native peoples and their relationships with the environment to be important for many reasons and deserving of serious consideration. Shepard Krech's recently published and controversial book, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, contributed to the timeliness of the discussion, it seemed to us.

While these foundational thoughts for the “Re-figuring the Ecological Indian” conference were hardly provocative, action that followed, as plans for the conference evolved, proved to be. Specifically, Shepard Krech was invited to give a keynote address. I supported the address because I was interested in hearing his arguments and evidence presented before an audience that was in significant measure Native American. Also, I believed the question-and-answer session following his presentation would provide an opportunity for critical discussion, challenges to Krech's premises and positions, and a necessary opportunity for debate. I anticipated a “Krech Meets the Critics” encounter that would represent the best traditions of the academy. What I failed to anticipate was the interpretation by some that the conference's invitation to Krech was an endorsement of him and his writings. I should have known better, and when it happened I had no trouble understanding why. I wish my timing had been better and that I had thought ahead instead of understanding after.

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