When fifteenth century European explorers landed in the Americas, the environmentally balanced Native American way of life was forever changed. The explorers brought disease, a different mode of intellectual thought, and a dualistic spirituality of heaven and earth that was quite different from that of the original peoples. Scholars from various points of view have debated the different ramifications for several centuries, and perspective continues to change. Not everyone celebrates Columbus Day, and not everyone believes that the Indians were the first pure conservationists.
It is the purpose of this paper to explore some challenges to American Indian environmental philosophies, present arguments for and against the American Indian environmental philosophies, and summarize the main points with a conclusion. One has to keep in mind that this delicate topic of Native American environmental philosophy is fraught with landmines and potholes of subjectivity, bias, and prejudice. It is as if it is a hot spot of cultural guilt, an area where everyone tries very hard to do the right thing because the Indians were treated so badly by the conquests of the Europeans. Various social and environmental movements have sometimes taken advantage of that national guilt, making the crying Indian the icon for righting unrightable wrongs. However, in academic work, one has to try to be impartial, to examine and present information from a variety of points of view with as much objectivity as possible. This we will attempt to do in regard to Native American Environmental Philosophies.
Challenges to American Indian Environmental Philosophies
The Judeo-Christian Western attitude toward the environment is and was philosophically quite different from that of the native peoples. Those of European origin believe that the world is given to humans to use and improve, not for the sake of the world, but for the advantages of the people (Rosenstand, ...