SocraticGadfly: The noble American Indian vs COVID — reality vs myth

April 08, 2020

The noble American Indian vs COVID — reality vs myth

Two new pieces, one from Native News Online and the other from High Country News, both peddle myths that all we have to do is look to American Indians of the past to get past the novel coronavirus.

First, Native News Online. It claims that American Indians, unlike Dan Patrick, Glenn Beck and other wingnuts, would never sacrifice elders for the economy.


(First really is that Chief Seattle didn't say that.)

So, the Inuit leaving elders on ice floes to die when they couldn't keep up? It wasn't common, contra the semi-legend that thinks it was, but, especially in bad times, like famines, yes, it really happened. More here. In other cases, they were knifed or walled into igloos, not abandoned on the ice. And, it's not just Inuit; other cultures have practiced senicide of various sorts around the world at various times.


Now, High Country News. Starting here:
Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably in the same territories for thousands of years have important knowledge systems that can productively intervene in the destructive social structures currently orchestrating our downfall.
No, most American Indians didn't stay in the same place for thousands of years. They might, or might not, have stayed in the same region. Even that, though, was usually only for hundreds of years. The Navajo and Apache, exactly whenever they migrated from Canada, arrived at the eastern edge of the greater Southwest about 1350 CE. I reject some eccentrics in the world of archaeology who claim to have solid evidence of the Navajos not only in the area earlier, but west of the Rockies a century or so earlier. Even that, though, would be less than 1,000 years ago and certainly not "thousands."

The Sioux and "their" sacred Black Hills? They only moved west of the Missouri in numbers 200 or so years ago, the same time Lewis and Clark were going up the river. And, they only moved because the Ojibwa kicked them out of Wisconsin.

Within a region? The Anasazi abandoned most their villages every 35 or so years. They had to. They had hunted out the land of meat that supplemented their farming, and at least as much, had probably winnowed thin plants they added to their diets as the gathering half of hunter-gatherer work. Anthropologists and archaeologists today know that the corn-beans-squash farming trio alone didn't, and couldn't, sustain the Anasazi.

Colossal population growth has happened outside of "the West."

And, let's get to brass tacks. Like:
Indigenous societies, on the other hand, are based on worldviews where human needs are balanced with the needs of other life forms.
Really? So those mastodons and mammoths just disappeared on their own 10,000 years ago? That arroyo cutting in Chaco and elsewhere happened by magic? Or, per a claim on HCN's Facebook page, those mastodon exterminators weren't American Indians? Or, did the needs of mastodon and mammoth suddenly run dry?

And, hey, they were noble savages, but also scientists!
When the integrity of an ecosystem is guarded, the integrity and very existence of human communities are guarded as well. 
American Indians of "yore" didn't know about "ecosystems," let alone guard them. (Neither did other cultures of centuries or millennia ago, of course, including those of Europe.) "Ecosystem" understanding didn't come until modern science development. Tis true that said sciences have exploited American Indians just like pioneers and missionaries. But, scientists have generally (but not perfectly) moved beyond that, and certainly more than uninformed descendants of pioneers and missionaries.

You want more? Slavery of course existed back then. And, sometimes (though not as much as with Euro-Americans) it was even hereditary. Slaves, as property and therefore a measure of wealth, were reportedly even killed at potlaches. Here's a Google search.

And here's T.H. Watkins, being blunt about the issue of noble Indians today in general.

As for capitalism? The Spaniards, and other Europeans, were indeed gold-crazed. But, the Aztec and Inca weren't totally innocent in the first place, were they? And, those potlaches were around before the first Spaniard or Englishman explored today's Washington State and British Columbia.

American Indians, or First Nations if you're up in Canada, weren't and aren't dirt. But, they weren't and aren't Rousselian noble savages, or New Agey saints, either. That's true whether you're a modern Anglo or a modern American Indian. (Oh, American Indians, like any people, can be racist, too.)

It's not just the folks above. By name, this is part of why I deblogrolled Wrong Kind of Green.

Things like this are why I keep the word "skeptical" in front of "leftist" on my blog header and elsewhere. Yes, today, wingnuts will exploit some of this. But, New Agers will exploit the backlash for various versions of social and social media shaming as exemplified by the two pieces.

Again, let's treat American Indians as people — the good, the bad and the ugly. And, that applies to American Indians themselves. I blocked one Canadian First Nationer over this issue at HCN's Facebook page.

And, yes, it matters today, as I said in reply to another commenter on that T.H. Watkins link. It matters for exactly these reasons.

Sadly, the week before, HCN published this piece explicitly about not misrepresenting American Indian knowledge during the coronavirus pandemic.

That, in turn, shows larger unevenness in recent years in editorial management. By that, I'm talking about the overall tone or tenor becoming more and more fuzzy, not copy editing or style issues.

It's not just HCN. A number of political journals have this problem more and more. Jacobin can be all over the place, for example. But, this is another of the effects of the Internet, in my opinion. Lack of focus plus an overly expanded editorial mission killed Pacific Standard, in my opinion.

1 comment:

mcc1789 said...

I totally agree. The fact that has (and does) suffer many wrongs isn't a good reason to put them on a pedestal or accept positive claims of them uncritically. Too often we seem to swing from "X are demons" into "No, they're angels". The truth is rarely like that and I don't find it's ever so with people.