The Ecological Indian: Myth and History

Overview

"A good story and first-rate social science."—New York Times Book Review
The idea of the Native American living in perfect harmony with nature is one of the most cherished contemporary myths. But how truthful is this larger-than-life image? According to anthropologist Shepard Krech, the first humans in North America demonstrated all of the intelligence, self-interest, flexibility, and ability to make mistakes of human beings anywhere. As Nicholas Lemann put it in The New Yorker, "Krech is more than just a ...

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Overview

"A good story and first-rate social science."—New York Times Book Review
The idea of the Native American living in perfect harmony with nature is one of the most cherished contemporary myths. But how truthful is this larger-than-life image? According to anthropologist Shepard Krech, the first humans in North America demonstrated all of the intelligence, self-interest, flexibility, and ability to make mistakes of human beings anywhere. As Nicholas Lemann put it in The New Yorker, "Krech is more than just a conventional-wisdom overturner; he has a serious larger point to make. . . . Concepts like ecology, waste, preservation, and even the natural (as distinct from human) world are entirely anachronistic when applied to Indians in the days before the European settlement of North America." "Offers a more complex portrait of Native American peoples, one that rejects mythologies, even those that both European and Native Americans might wish to embrace."—Washington Post

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
When in 1971 a "Keep America Beautiful" campaign featured an anti-pollution poster with a picture of a crying Indian, the longstanding image of the Indian as ecologically sensitive was reinforced for all who saw it. This book takes a longitudinal view of actual Indian behavior vis-à-vis the environment, using historical records that tell what their actual behaviors were. The author's thorough research revealed uses (and abuses) of both plants and animals. He notes unexplained extinctions during the Pleistocene era, long-ago human population patterns, records of diseases, treatment of deer and beaver, and the influence of Indian-set fires on the formation of the plains. There is a striking account of the destruction of the buffalo, a process in which both whites and Indians participated. "In Indian Country as in the larger society," he says, "conservation is often sacrificed for economic security." Krech's conclusion is that Indians, as others, were often tough on the environment, especially when human population burgeoned. When disease, etc. reduced the population, the land recovered, a fact that gave European settlers the impression that there was more virgin land than actually existed. "Indian people have had a mixed relationship to the environment." Archeological evidence shows they often killed more animals than they needed, used just choice parts of the animal, and hunted along with the whites at the time of final extinction of the great herds of buffalo. The author also makes clear that the Indians felt a spiritual, mystical connection to the animals they killed in ways foreign to European thinking. With regard to several animals, Indians did not appear to believe thatkilling animals had anything to do with the size of the population because they believed in reanimation or reincarnation. The author believes the Indians may have absorbed some European ideas about the environment as their own. This book is not sentimental or simplistic. It is very readable and suspenseful for a highly researched work, and the introduction and epilogue are especially useful. There are 87 pages of notes and index, and the bibliography is incorporated within the end notes. "...many non-Indians expect indigenous people to walk softly in their moccasins as conservationists and even (in Muir's sense) preservationists. When they have not, they have at times eagerly been condemned, accused of not acting as Indians should, and held to standards that they and their accusers have seldom met." Excellent choice for collections on Native Americans and on ecology. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Norton, 318p, notes, bibliog, index, 21cm, 99-19425, $14.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; former Lib. Media Spec., Magic City Campus, Minot, ND, November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393321005
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 318
  • Sales rank: 599,183
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Shepard Krech III is a professor of anthropology at Brown University. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Maine.

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Table of Contents

Preface 9
Introduction 15
1 Pleistocene Extinctions 29
2 The Hohokam 45
3 Eden 73
4 Fire 101
5 Buffalo 123
6 Deer 151
7 Beaver 173
Epilogue 211
Endnotes 231
Index 309
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2003

    Well presented but sure to be controversial

    Were the American Indians always environmentalists, ecologists, conservations or preservationists, as they are almost invariably presented today? Or is this a modern construct with huge cultural, political and social results? Krech argues that the NA's were not the gentle walkers of the earth as they are presented today (in print, TV & political ads) but that the Indian waste was exacerbated by European desires for trade goods--furs, etc. Even if you do not totally agree with the book's thesis, its a great place to start.....

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