- Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian, and: Out of the Shadow: Ecopsychology, Story, and Encounters with the Land
In the world of literary theory, ecological criticism can still claim the title of new kid on the block. The same could be said for modern Native American literature. In the seminal work of ecocriticism compiled by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm in 1996, The Ecocriticism Reader, Native American intellectual luminaries such as Paula Gunn Allen and Leslie Marmon Silko feature prominently with strong essays, implying that Native American literature meshed well with the emerging theory. Joni Adamson's 2001 book American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism: The Middle Place carried the theme a bit deeper, focusing on specific writers rather than the broader strokes of Allen's essay. Two recent works that focus specifically on Native Americans and their relationship with the land provide new avenues for looking at Native American literature.
The most controversial of the two books, Native Americans and the Environment, is a collection of essays gathered and edited by Michael Harkin, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, and David Rich Lewis, a professor of history at Utah State University. The book has eighteen contributors and is a first edition, with a foreword, preface, introduction, and afterword. The book purports to navigate the rough waters created by Shepherd Krech's 1999 work, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. A conference was held in Laramie, Wyoming, in 2002 to consider Krech's book and the strong feelings surrounding it, and the essay collection is the result of that conference.
Native Americans and the Environment covers a large span of [End Page 93] time, and it essentially reconsiders the historical record with regard to Native Americans and their mythic status as excellent stewards of the land—the original ecologists, in short. In order not to allow the idea of ecology to carry too much anachronistic baggage, the editors in their introduction offer an inspiring compromise, offering three types of ecology: one, the fact that all people in all ages are linked with the world, technological or no; two, troubles with sustainability issues; and three, the modern ecological idea specific to a technological, industrial society. This clever interweaving of definitions allows all the contributors to use the ecological label but to pick from one, two, three, or a combination of the three, to define on which era their work focuses.
The many essays that follow either support or attack Krech from a variety of standpoints, revealing the various biases of each individual contributor. Styles vary as much as points of view, though the overriding tone is one of academic detachment. Among the most passionate essays are Krech's first chapter and afterword, reconsidering the effects of the book that set the entire project into motion. Perhaps ironically, Krech notes "the harshest and most unforgiving critics happen [. . .] to be either environmentalists or American Indians" (5). Such a reaction should not be so surprising, however, as history has proven when anyone has attempted to actually examine a sacred cow. The image of the ecological Indian comes under serious challenge not only from Krech but also from Robert Kelly, Mary M. Prasciunas, Michael Harkin, and Dan Flores, all of whom point to possible Native American involvement in animal extinctions. Essays by Darren J. Ranco, member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, and Judith Antell, member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, stake out lines of defense. If anything, the book is a poignant example of the many facets of ecological awareness and the wide range of perspectives on the practices of people who live close to the land.
There are too many essays covering too much ground to focus on each specifically, but one deserves...