Oftentimes when these environmental myths are not only challenged but dispelled they’remet with rather visceral reactions from many. Shepard Krech’s The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, awork that focused on environmental overharvesting among multiple AmericanIndian groups, is a prime example. One critic became so angry that he toldthe author he would end up in hell for publishing a book that was so damagingto the planet and as well as Native Peoples (Chacon and Mendoza 8). Perhapsnothing demonstrates this problem more clearly than the Kayapo, a tribal groupstill fighting for land rights in Brazil today.
During the late 1980s theKayapo launched a massive campaign in order to gain control of their own landfrom the unsanctioned access of miners and loggers. Environmentalists took uptheir cry and helped them to achieve international support and recognition,their cause was further aided by the one time lead singer for the Police,Sting. A partnership with the Kayapo and other indigenous groups andenvironmentalists was and is a way for Indian groups to gain greater outsidesupport or attention. However, in some cases as was the case with the Kayapooften times the desired goals are not shared by both parties and can lead tointense misunderstandings. The Kayapo have been in sustained contact with theoutside would to some degree or another for nearly one hundred years. They havedeveloped strategies for dealing with outside people and governments to achievetheir ends.
The image of the noble savage and brute barbarian have been usedfor various purposes, once again, both are untrue. And an idealized image ofthe Indian or Indians as some kind of savior of the environment is amisrepresentation of their culture and leads to nothing but confusion andmisunderstanding (Rice 109).Duringenvironmental conferences they made sure that all Kayapo present were dressedin traditional attire and appeared like warriors, knowing that this was thekind of image that would sell.
The Kayapo fought for and won the right tocontrol their own land, the outside world imagined that this would end in anEden like paradise. Instead, one of the first things the Kayapo did was tolease out sections of their land to loggers and miners. This of course did notmake environmentalists who had supported them very happy. There had never beena true statement of goals that existed between the two groups, something thatlead to disillusionment on the part of environmentalists. The Kayapo were notfighting to ensure that their land was never used for mining or logging, theysimply wanted control over who got to do it and how much.
Understandably theyalso wanted to be able to make a profit, which they successfully did. Amore worrying trend is that taking place in academic circles. It is hard toimagine anthropologists actively working against and in some cases attemptingto stop new work that is both well documented and backed by data from being published, yet this is exactly what has happened inseveral instances.
Chacon and Mendoza in their work The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research Reporting onEnvironmental Degradation and Warfare explain attempts to attack anddestroy their own work “the visceral reaction to this work in the academy andthe public arena is well documented.Scholars often vilify it and its authors, branding them racists or (in the caseof the senior editor) academic Nazis. These essays, like all such works, shouldrise or fall not because of ad hominem attacks but because of their use ofevidence and the clarity and intelligence of theory and analysis” (Chacon andMendoza viii). Once again the answer to the question why is a difficultquestion to answer. Information on warfare, violence andenvironmental degradation on the part of Amerindian peoples is simply one thathas become unpopular in many circles.
For one reason or another these argumentsare now viewed as politically incorrect but also anti-indigenous. Theissue of the environmental Indian is one that seems to have engraved itselfamong certain members of the academic community. For example, many haveasserted the belief that Amerindian peoples hunted in sustainable patterns dueto a traditional system that was inherently conservationist.
William Ritchie, an archaeologist for the state of New York, in 1956 made the comment “in sharp contrast tothe white man’s way that the Indian trod lightly through his naturalenvironment, merging himself sympathetically into the world of the living andnon-living things” (Chacon Mendoza 2). Others insisted that “an Indian tookpride in not making a mark on the land, but on leaving as few marks aspossible.” And “it is now clearly understood that many indigenous peoples livein greater harmony with the natural environment than do inhabitants of theindustrialized consumer societies” (Chacon and Mendoza 3). Clearly, these ideashave persisted into our own day and are not merely relics of a time when datawas not complete.
The myth of American Indians existing a state of perpetualpeace also persists in many circles. In 1995 Means and Wolf describedpre-contact indigenous warfare as more akin to a professional football gamethen European warfare which was geared towards extermination (Chacon andMendoza 4).