The Ecological Indian

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pages: 8 (2487 words) Published: January 16, 2011
There has been a longstanding debate over the appropriate way to understand the relationship of Native Americans with the environment and the ecologically noble Indian stereotype that has followed them throughout history. This essay examines the fundamentally Eurocentric attitudes that this very debate entails, thereby rendering any possible conclusions drawn to be meaningless due to its lack of understanding of the basic cultural structure it seeks to define. Because of the radically different way Native Americans conceptualize the universe and nature, attempting to place them on our constructed spectrum of environmentalism is a meaningless endeavor. If the term “environmentalism” itself is examined, it becomes clear that it is by definition framed in Eurocentric values and ideologies, rendering it useless in the categorization of Indian beliefs and practices. The very basis of our knowledge is Eurocentric, intrinsic in the way we think and conceptualize, it is also inherent in the way we organize knowledge.  Virtually all the disciplines of social sciences, from economics to anthropology, emerged when Europe was formulating its worldview, and virtually all are geared to serving the needs and requirements of Western society and promoting its outlook. [Sardar 1999: 51]

This impulse to perpetuate the worldview of the West and ideologies viewing our society as having solutions for the rest of the world have had grave effects on Indian nations. The European concept of culture presumes a split between individuals and their natural surroundings.  “Based on the dialectic between nature that has been ‘improved’ by human agency and that which has not, humans are seen as being able to develop and cultivate nature in some form of cultural pursuit, a certain or preferred aesthetic also becomes detached from social practices” (Battiste 2000: 18). Native Americans, on the other hand, are knowledgeable of their cultures and see things in more than a human-to-human context. It is a perspective that involves humans, animals, plants, the natural environment, and the metaphysical world of visions and dreams. This broader context of perception involves more accountability and responsibility on the part of native people for taking care of and respecting their relationships with all things. They believe that we are “all part of a continuum of energy that is at the heart of the universe…due to the spiritual energy within all things, all things should be respected for their potential” (Fixico 2009: 2). Donald Fixico argues that for Native American groups, who are closer to their historic traditions, their sense of logic is related to a circular thinking process. Unlike the linear process of Western society, the circular process addresses items as to their interconnectedness within a system. Reality for Indian people and their communities is very different from the reality of non-Indians. This combined reality of the physical environment and metaphysical environment reflects the people’s belief in a combined reality. Stories convey this reality of spiritual beings interacting with people on a regular basis. It is this idea that nature and its phenomena of metaphysics interact with people in a nonconcrete fashion that Western society usually dismisses. (Fixico 2009: 34)

The American Indian mind thinks inclusively. In their belief that all things are related and interconnected, this natural order is a sociocultural kinship and natural democracy that extends to all animals and plants.

The belief that nature can be re-ordered to our liking is responsible for most environmental and human denigration towards each other and our communities. Eurocentric intellectual isolation of American Indian environmental spirituality and thought is a form of monocultural orthodoxy that excludes Native American wisdom not for its message but because it fails to live up to European norms which involve assumptions about ‘savages’ and other universalizing...
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