- Disposing of Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks, and: American Indians and National Parks
Mark David Spence's Disposing of Wilderness offers detailed case studies of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. The reader is offered a fine introduction to wilderness as a historical and cultural construct and the perspective that nonnative people's romantic views allowed them to believe that national parks were uninhabited Edens rather than anthropological landscapes shaped by Indian fire setting, hunting, and plant breeding. Spence traces the origins of contemporary Indian groups living near the three parks. Readers interested in the cultural histories of Native people dispossessed from these premier parks will appreciate this book. Those who are looking for a stimulating addition to the broader parks literature are more likely to find it lacking.
Spence's thesis that uninhabited wilderness must be created through the dispossession of Native people before it can be preserved is not new. Nor is the notion that the establishment of the first parks in the United States set the precedent for other parks in the country as well as Native dispossession throughout the world. Furthermore, after situating Native dispossession in the international context, Spence does nothing with it. For example, Spence does not look at Glacier in the context of Glacier-Waterton, a park that straddles an international border. Indeed, even the rather poor map of the park shows only an otherwise empty space labeled Canada to the north.
There are many cases from Africa, Asia, and Australia of native peoples losing their lands to parks and being relocated into reserves by national governments. Cultural and economic outcomes have been similar to those within the United States, with indigenous [End Page 313] peoples legislated out of their traditional lifestyles into selling crafts, dancing at tourist hotels, or posing for pictures in "traditional" garb. Native people often only qualify for the lowest level jobs in parks, and training programs for them to fill administrative park positions are virtually nonexistent. Ecologically, many of the management errors described by Spence for U.S. parks have been repeated around the world. For example, there has been a pattern of overly stringent fire suppression as well as predator control programs that have resulted in unchecked numbers of ungulates overgrazing lands until they became targets of culling programs themselves. Many premier parks outside of the United States also were created after the human population plummeted because of introduced disease and warfare. Spence uses the familiar analogy of parks and reservations being separate "islands," yet he offers no discussion of island biogeography or how it has informed efforts around the world to expand and connect existing parks to provide sufficient habitats for larger animals.
The pace and depth of Disposing of Wilderness make it suitable for a graduate seminar, not an undergraduate classroom. The author is perhaps overly optimistic in concluding that park managers have learned from their mistakes, that relations between local people and parks have improved greatly, and that dispossession is no longer the means by which parks are created. Perhaps his optimism stems from a focus on the country with the longest tradition of national parks as well as one that has more revenue than most with which to address people–park conflicts, should it elect to do so.
In American Indians and National Parks, authors Robert Keller and Michael Turek use library research, interviews, and personal experience working for parks to explore the complexities of protecting land. Keller and Turek argue against the stereotypes of the Indian as ecologist and Indian as victim. Native people are presented more as actors than as acted on. The authors examine the conflicting attitudes within native groups on issues ranging from mining, logging, dam building, and dam removal to boundary adjustments and social services associated with approximately...