Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

By Michael E. Harkin; David Rich Lewis | Go to book overview

8. Ecological and Un-ecological Indians
The (Non)portrayal of Plains Indians
in the Buffalo Commons Literature

Sebastian F. Braun

A definition of others, or an essentialization, in general either paints a positive or a negative picture; but in either case, the picture painted is only a mirror reflection of the painter. In The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, Shepard Krech (1999) shows how this holds true for the ways in which diverse interest groups depict North American Indians and their relations to the environment.

While Krech looks at the relations of American Indians to buffalo from a primarily historical perspective, in this chapter I take a look at how myths and histories are still evident in today's discussions on the future of the Great Plains. For that purpose, I discuss some tendencies of how the buffalo commons debate, understood in a broad sense, sees Indian relations to buffalo.1 I also look at recent historical revisions of the slaughter of the buffalo, which are backing up various viewpoints of the debate. Because buffalo historically were of significant cultural importance on the Great Plains and have become a symbol of contemporary relations to the environment, this reveals much about perspectives on the connection between Plains Indians and the environment in general.

Most plains reservations began to build small herds in the early 1970s, and the buffalo commons proposal (D. E. Popper and Popper 1987) and the subsequent social, ecological, and political debates have had little direct impact on tribes' decisions to bring back buffalo to their reservations. How

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