The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos

The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos

The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos

The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos

Synopsis

"Richard White's study of the collapse into 'dependency' of three Native American subsistence economies represents the best kind of interdisciplinary effort. Here ideas and approaches from several fields- mainly anthropology, history, and ecology- are fruitfully combined in one inquiring mind closely focused on a related set of large, salient problems.... A very sophisticated study, a 'best read' in Indian history."- American Historical Review

Excerpt

Most twentieth-century Americans link Indians and the environment almost automatically. The connections are simple and largely symbolic--Indian peoples serve as a sort of environmental conscience for the larger society. This ubiquity of the Indian as environmentalist unfortunately tends to reduce most research about Indian peoples and the land to briefs for and against the recent canonization of Indians into environmental sainthood. Such arguments have outlived their usefulness. By considering the actions and concerns of Indian peoples only in terms of the controversies of the late twentieth century, they trivialize and distort native societies. They also obscure larger historical questions by failing to examine why and how human societies have influenced the environment, and what the social consequences of human induced environmental change have been.

These larger issues are the concern of this book. Indians, like all peoples, live in a physical world which is not only natural but also historical--a creation of their ancestors and themselves. Environmental constraints set certain boundaries on human creations, but they only limit; they do not dictate. Ideally, such human-dominated ecosystems produce food and shelter for human beings without degrading the natural systems upon which the society depends. Often, however, degradation occurs; a human environment breaks down and the society which created it faces crisis, change, and perhaps extinction.

Such crises have occurred repeatedly in human history; they occur now and will occur again. Too often they are dismissed as merely environmental or biological failures--failures of skill, of luck, or of . . .

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