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6 Essays on Native American Thought & Behaviors

In the epilogue to his book, Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade, Calvin Martin takes the objective point of view of a biologist looking at the balance of nature with the life of the Indian. The main idea in this work is that there is conflicting evidence regarding the view of the Native American as a conservationist. In fact the Native American was a pragmatist who relied on the land for survival, and therefore respected it.

Martin initially summarizes the train of thought that led to the choice of the Indian as spokesperson for conservation in America. He leads the reader through the ideas of Leopold, the Transcendentalists, the landscape painters, Rachel Carson, and Paul Ehrlich, who brought popular thinking in the U.S. to a point of needing a powerful symbol for ecology (Martin, 158). Coinciding with disenchantment with the war in Southeast Asia came oil spills and proof that cigarettes cause cancer. Popular writers used the bon sauvage in sentimental literature such as Faulkner's The Bear, Melville's Moby Dick, and Hemingway's Nick Adams stories. In the 1960's and early 1970's utilitarian, aesthetic, social, health, and political forces came together in a type of fashionable anxiety and rage known as the Gospel of Ecology (Martin, 159). This movement needed an image to focus the movement, and the American Indian was so decreed.

Martin dispassionately looks at evidence on either side of the issue of whether or not the Indian responsibly or irresponsibly used animals and land. There is strong information supporting both points of view. The mythology of the pure, peaceful Indian is difficult to overcome, but writers such as Hutchinson state that "nature is not a benign bovine with a teat for every questing mouth . . .that the Indian revered nature because he had no other choice" (Martin, 163).

Such interesting chance trends of culture, such as fashion in Europe, were influential in ...

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