). land from the unsanctioned access of

).
 Often times when these environmental
myths are not only challenged but dispelled they’re met with rather visceral
reactions from many. Shepard Krech’s The
Ecological Indian: Myth and History, a work that focused on environmental
overharvesting among multiple American Indian groups,
is a prime example. One critic became
so angry that he told the author he would end up in hell for publishing a book
that was so damaging to the planet and as well as Native Peoples (Chacon and
Mendoza 8).

Perhaps
nothing demonstrates this problem more clearly than the Kayapo, a tribal group
still fighting for land rights in Brazil today. During the late 1980s the
Kayapo launched a massive campaign in order to gain control of their own land
from the unsanctioned access of miners and loggers. Environmentalists took up
their 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 and
environmentalists was and is a way for Indian groups to gain greater outside
support or attention. However, in some cases as was the case with the Kayapo
often times the desired goals are not shared by both parties and can lead to
intense misunderstandings. The Kayapo have been in sustained contact with the
outside would to some degree or another for nearly one hundred years. They have
developed strategies for dealing with outside people and governments to achieve
their ends. The image of the noble savage and brute barbarian have been used
for various purposes, once again, both are untrue. And an idealized image of
the Indian or Indians as some kind of savior of the environment is a
misrepresentation of their culture and leads to nothing but confusion and
misunderstanding (Rice 109).

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During
environmental conferences they made sure that all Kayapo present were dressed
in traditional attire and appeared like warriors, knowing that this was the
kind of image that would sell. The Kayapo fought for and won the right to
control their own land, the outside world imagined that this would end in an
Eden like paradise. Instead, one of the first things the Kayapo did was to
lease out sections of their land to loggers and miners. This of course did not
make environmentalists who had supported them very happy. There had never been
a true statement of goals that existed between the two groups, something that
lead to disillusionment on the part of environmentalists. The Kayapo were not
fighting to ensure that their land was never used for mining or logging, they
simply wanted control over who got to do it and how much. Understandably they
also wanted to be able to make a profit, which they successfully did.  

A
more worrying trend is that taking place in academic circles. It is hard to
imagine anthropologists actively working against and in some cases attempting
to stop new work that is both well documented and backed by data from being published, yet this is exactly what has happened in
several instances. Chacon and Mendoza in their work The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research Reporting on
Environmental Degradation and Warfare explain attempts to attack and
destroy their own work “the visceral reaction to this work in the academy and
the public arena is well documented.
Scholars often vilify it and its authors, branding them racists or (in the case
of the senior editor) academic Nazis. These essays, like all such works, should
rise or fall not because of ad hominem attacks but because of their use of
evidence and the clarity and intelligence of theory and analysis” (Chacon and
Mendoza viii). Once again the answer to the question why is a difficult
question to answer. Information on warfare, violence and
environmental degradation on the part of Amerindian peoples is simply one that
has become unpopular in many circles. For one reason or another these arguments
are now viewed as politically incorrect but also anti-indigenous.

The
issue of the environmental Indian is one that seems to have engraved itself
among certain members of the academic community. For example, many have
asserted the belief that Amerindian peoples hunted in sustainable patterns due
to 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 to
the white man’s way that the Indian trod lightly through his natural
environment, merging himself sympathetically into the world of the living and
non-living things” (Chacon Mendoza 2). Others insisted that “an Indian took
pride in not making a mark on the land, but on leaving as few marks as
possible.” And “it is now clearly understood that many indigenous peoples live
in greater harmony with the natural environment than do inhabitants of the
industrialized consumer societies” (Chacon and Mendoza 3). Clearly, these ideas
have persisted into our own day and are not merely relics of a time when data
was not complete. The myth of American Indians existing a state of perpetual
peace also persists in many circles. In 1995 Means and Wolf described
pre-contact indigenous warfare as more akin to a professional football game
then European warfare which was geared towards extermination (Chacon and
Mendoza 4).

Both
historical and pre-contact North America, in reality, was not quite as peaceful
as would have us imagine. For example, around 1725 the Comanche recent
acquirers of the horse stormed onto the Great Plains taking the prime buffalo
grounds and indeed most of the Southern Great Plains for their own. Nearly exterminating
the Tonkawa tribe and actually exterminating three Apache bands and forcing the
remainder into what is today the South Western United States. Coastal
California, an area defined by scant resources and
intense competition, was one of the most warlike places in pre-contact North
America. There are of course examples of Indian tribes that were by and large
very peaceful however often times they were preyed upon by their more warlike
neighbors. Such was the case with groups
such as the Mandan, Ponca, Crow, Pawnee, and Assiniboine who face constant and
sometimes devastating raids by the Sioux as they expanded and fought for
control of the Northern Plains. What is worrisome is the oftentimes blanket
statements that exclude all possibilities of cultural variation of Native
tribes and communities. Some anthropologists have even suggested that 70% of
all Amerindian tribes maintained a peaceful existing (Chacon and Mendoza).
While this view is evidently favored by certain individuals such statements are
not only false but directly contradict mountains of historical,
anthropological, archaeological, and ethnographical data.

 In some cases, these stereotypes have been for
all intense and purposed shattered completely. It was thought until fairly
recently that the Maya represented a group of peaceful stargazer’s intent on
observing the heavens and pondering their gods and religion in short a society based solely on a priestly
class. Since Stephen and Catherwood first began the documentation and drawing
of Maya cities in the 1840s these people captured the attention of the outside
world and speculation on their culture abounded and was,
as explained, misunderstood. The first crack in this myth came with Tatiana
Poskouriakoff a woman who devoted herself to understanding Maya art, symbolism
and hieroglyphics. She noticed that the stelae depicting what was thought at
the time to be Maya gods had bar and dot dates, the only bit of Maya writing
decipherable at the time. Poskouriakoff noticed that these dates never exceeded
the span of a human life suggesting that these
weren’t gods, but once powerful Maya lords who in some cases ruled over large
population centers. The first crack had been placed in the myth of the Maya. As
Maya studies advanced and their hieroglyphic writings were deciphered and with
the discovery of the murals at Bonampak depicting human sacrifice it became
clear that they practiced warfare and violence and were no exception to the
rule in terms of other cultures around them.

There
has been a move to correct some of these issues in recent years both from an
academic standpoint and from Indian communities themselves. For example, a 2009
film entitled Real Injun focuses on the changing portrayal of American Indians
in film starting from the period of the classic Westerns filmed in the late
1920s through the 50s all the way up to modern movies such as Dances with
Wolves. This is a prime example of Visual anthropology at its best. Though
not technically an anthropological work it had many of the hallmarks that visual
anthropologists look for such as multiple voices and allowing the people
being studied to take hold of the camera themselves and give the world their
take on the problem.

The
academic world too has seen many new studies and books which challenge our
perception of American Indian life both before and after Columbus. The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian
Research Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare by Chacon and
Mendoza, focusing on warfare, violence, and environmental degradation which
took place in Amerindian communities is one. Another is 1491 by Charles C. Mann. Mann discusses the realities of changing
archaeological and historical information which are drastically reshaping our
ideas of what the pre-Columbian landscape looked like. Not only may there have
been a vastly higher number of people populating what was previously thought to
be in some cases a nearly empty landscape though in fairness this is still
hotly debated. Mann also gives insight to the lay of the land in 1491. “Until Columbus, Indians were a keystone species
in most of the hemisphere. Annually burning undergrowth, clearing and
replanting forests, building canals and raising fields, hunting bison, and
netting salmon, growing maize, manioc, and the Eastern Agricultural Complex,
Native Americans had been managing their environment for thousands of years”
(Mann 363). This is not to say that American Indians never modified their
environment in ways that were not sustainable in many ways they often did. But we
are left with reminders such as Cahokia, the Anasazi, and some Maya cities to
know that this was not always the case.