The sacred cow of environmentalism?

compiled & edited by Daniel Hagadorn

“But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.” —H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)

DISCLAIMER: It should be obvious to anyone who has bothered to read the historical record that Europeans/Americans have mistreated–sometimes brutally–the North American Indians. However, that is not the whole story.

PC VERSION: “Puritans were racists who held the Indians in contempt.”

HISTORICAL REALITY: Relations between the North American Indians and the colonists were complex.

FACT NO. 1: The indigenous Indian populations of North America have been the victims of injustice and maltreatment during the course of our nation’s history.

FACT NO. 2: Some colonials were more equitable than others in their treatment of the native Indians.[1]

FOR INSTANCE…

  • By 1646, Harvard College (est. 1636) welcomed Indian students.
  • Colonials could and did receive the death penalty for murdering Indians.
  • Indian converts to Christianity received considerable autonomy in the “praying towns” of New England.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Missionary John Eliot (1604-1690) (1) learned the language of the Massachusetts Algonquin tribes, (2) developed a written version of their language, and (3) translated the Bible into that language.
  • If the Puritans truly sought to “oppress” the Indians they could have devised an easier way.

FACT NO. 3: Puritans DID NOT consider themselves racially superior but DID believe they were culturally superior.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • This attitude was perfectly understandable since, (1) Indians did not use the wheel, (2) possessed no written language, and (3) existed in essentially Stone Age conditions.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Interestingly, Puritans generally believed that Indians had been born white but attributed their darker (“stained”) skin to the effects of the sun.
  • Other Puritans believed that Indians descended from the Jews, whom they revered as God’s chosen people.[2]

PC VERSION: “Puritans committed untold atrocities—even genocide—against the Pequot tribe [and Indians in general] to steal their lands.”

HISTORICAL REALITY: Though conflict between Puritans and Indians was often appallingly lethal, it was NOT genocidal in nature.[3]

FACT NO. 4: The Pequot were a relatively small tribe and continued to be listed as a distinct group living in Connecticut until the late-1960s.

FACT NO. 5: Puritans widely believed that their royal charter conferred political rights NOT property rights.[4]

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Colonials sought property rights through voluntary cession by the Indians.
  • Colonies at Plymouth, Providence, Connecticut, and New Haven obtained official titles of settlement from the Indians.
  • Indians actually welcomed settlement of the Connecticut Valley in the hopes that English colonists would deter the vicious Pequot tribe’s expansionist ambitions.
  • Once settled, these New England colonies were permitted to purchase whatever additional land they desired.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Individual colonies negotiated with Indians who were eager to sell their most abundant commodity–land–for two primary reasons:[5] (1) Indians greatly desired metal knives, hoes, and other implements rare to their Neolithic society, and (2) Indians often initiated these transactions because they coveted those goods as much as colonials coveted the land.
  • Puritans often recognized Indian hunting/fishing rights on their purchased lands since they were not natural hunters and desired the beaver pelts for trade.[6]
  • Occasionally disputes arose, and the courts frequently ruled in favor of the Indians.[7]
  • Deserted land claimed by Puritans was usually returned to Indians who later presented their claims.

FACT NO. 6: The Puritans DID NOT “steal” America from the Indians.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • New scientific evidence now suggests that the first people in North America were, (1) NOT Indians who walked across the Bering Strait Land Bridge, and (2) were INSTEAD, Caucasoids from Europe who traveled in boats along the North Atlantic ice sheets into the Eastern seaboard of modern America.[8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

FACT NO. 7: Western civilization and America in particular became dominant because it established three institutions.[13]

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Science. The invention of invention is a uniquely western concept and scientific progress in the West–particularly in America–enhanced the international standard of living more than anywhere else in the world.
  • Democracy. Based on the “human aspiration to be heard and participate in decision-making” and established through the separation of powers—a uniquely Western idea—this political institution has done more to advance individual liberty and freedom than any other in history.
  • Capitalism. Founded on the universal impulse to trade/barter, this economic ideology embraces the Western ideas of property rights, contracts, courts of enforcement, and free trade.
  • These three concepts and/or principles have produced a higher standard of living for a greater number of people than any other(s) in history.

PC VERSION: “Indians were great environmentalists, while white settlers destroyed the buffalo.”

HISTORICAL REALITY: Indians and white settlers were equally adept  at destroying both the environment and the buffalo.

FACT NO. 8: The myth of the “Indian environmentalist” originated from a 1979 Keep America Beautiful ad campaign, “People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It,” which featured Iron Eyes Cody (the “Crying Indian”). In reality, Iron Eyes Cody was an Italian-American actor born in Kaplan, Louisiana named Espera di Corti (1904-1999) who appeared in over 100 films and television shows and whose glycerin “tear” confirmed to American audiences that Indians were superior to all other settlers–especially Europeans–in environmental consciousness.

FACT NO. 9: The pre-Columbian Indians of the Americas were no more “environmentally conscious” than other New World civilizations.

FOR INSTANCE…

  • “Like Euro-Americans, not to mention the rest of humanity, Indians used the means at their command to bend nature to their use, and within the limits of their technology, they were no less inherently exploitative of it.”[14]
  • “…the Indian impact [on the environment] was neither benign nor localized and ephemeral, nor were resources always used in a sound ecological way… The size of native populations, associated deforestation, and prolonged intensive agriculture led to severe land degradation in some regions.”[15]
  • Choctaw and Iroquois were widely known to practice “slash-and-burn” agriculture and when the farmland became exhausted, they simply moved to a new location and repeated the practice. The fires they set frequently burned out of control, causing additional damage without regard to the ecological consequences.[16]
  • Numerous firsthand accounts reported that Ojibwa, Cree, Mandan, Arapahoe, Gros Ventres, Shoshone, Blackfeet, Assiniboine, and various Northern Athapaskan people carelessly burned hundreds of thousands of acres, while similar reports described the destruction of thousands of bison, deer, elk, and wolves.[17]
  • Choctaw and Iroquois cleared land to increase forage for bison, elk, and deer and severely depleted “old growth” forests–which actually INCREASED in number AFTER the coming of the white man.[18]
  • Various Indian tribes overhunted wildlife populations and though the Cherokee in particular nearly drove the white-tailed deer into extinction, the deer population later recovered due to restocking programs during the 20th century. [19]
  • Since Cherokees (and other tribes) believed that animals were reanimated, killing one “begat potentially at least three and as many as six additional lives, and set the stage for three to six future killings.”[20]
  • Crees were especially wasteful, slaughtering large numbers of beavers and habitually discarding most of each animal. [21]

FACT NO. 10: Indians practiced property rights NOT communal ownership when they wished to preserve resources.[22]

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Several North American tribes (e.g. Montagnais-Naskapi, Algonkian, and Palute) granted hunting rights in certain areas,[23] while Indian tribes of the Northwest established a similar system of fishing rights.[24]

FOR INSTANCE…

  • Outdoor writer Ted Williams noted, “Over the past 25 years, Shoshones and Arapahos, equipped with snowmobiles, ATV’s, and high-powered rifles, have virtually wiped out elk, deer, moose, and bighorns on the 2.2-million-acre Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.”[25]

This is always the unfortunate–but predictable–result. When wildlife is said to belong to “everyone,” then no one has any incentive to conserve it. Human nature has repeatedly demonstrated that when the incentive to USE a resource outweighs the incentive to CONSERVE a resource–that resource will be used rather than conserved.


[1] Alden T. Vaughn, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).

[2] Thomas Torowgood, Jewes In America, or Probabilities That the Americans Are of That Race (London, England: 1650).

[3] Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

[4] James Warren Springer, “American Indians and the Law of Real Property in Colonial New England,” American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 30 (1986), pp. 25-58.

[5] James Warren Springer, “American Indians and the Law of Real Property in Colonial New England,” American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 30 (1986), pp. 25-58.

[6] James Warren Springer, “American Indians and the Law of Real Property in Colonial New England,” American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 30 (1986), pp. 25-58.

[7] James Warren Springer, “American Indians and the Law of Real Property in Colonial New England,” American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 30 (1986), pp. 25-58.

[8] B. Forrest Clayton, Suppressed History: Obliterating Politically Correct Orthodoxies (Cincinnati, OH: Armistead Publishing, 2003).

[9] Steve Connor, “Does Skull Prove That The First Americans Came From Europe?,” The Independent (3 December 2002).

[10] John Fauber, “Wisconsin Dig Points To Europe As Origin Of First Americans,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (4 March 2002).

[11] C. Loring Brace, A. Russell Nelson, Noriko Seguchi, Hiroaki Oe, Leslie Sering, Pan Qifeng, Li Yongyi, & Dashtseveg Tumen, “Old World Sources of the First New World Human Inhabitants: A Comparative Craniofacial View,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 98, No. 17 (14 August 2001).

[12] Dennis J. Stanford, Curator of Archaeology and Chairman of the Anthropology Department at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, “The Ice-Age Discovery of the Americas: Constructing an Iberian Solution” fourth lecture, Nobel Conference (2008). http://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/2008/stanford-lecture.php.

[13] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About America? (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2002).

[14] Fergus M. Bordewich, Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (New York: Doubleday, 1996), p. 212.

[15] Gordon M. Day, “The Indian as an Ecological Factor in the Northeastern Forest,” Ecology, Vol. 34 (April 1953), pp. 329-344.

[16] Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 120-121.

[17] Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 121.

[18] Terry L. Anderson, Conservation Native American Style (PERC Policy Series, July 1996).

[19] Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 170-171.

[20] Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 188.

[21] Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 188.

[22] Terry L. Anderson & Peter J. Hill, The Not so Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), pp. 40-41.

[23] Terry L. Anderson, Conservation Native American Style (PERC Policy Series, July 1996).

[24] Robert Higgs, “Legally Induced Technical Regress in the Washington Salmon Fishery,” Research in Economic History, Vol. 7 (1982), p. 59.

[25] Terry L. Anderson, Conservation Native American Style (PERC Policy Series, July 1996).

15 Responses

  1. Superb site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get responses from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

  2. Thanks, this particular post is quite interesting, I anticipate reading more of your website.

  3. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  4. Awesome website yo have here btw

  5. Loris Huling says:

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Thanks!

  6. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this superb blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  7. I’d have to okay with you one this subject. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to speak my mind!

  8. I am glad the site can be helpful. Best of luck on your college thesis…hang in there!

  9. Thank you for the kind words and please keep coming back!

  10. Thank you for the compliment. What specifically would you like to see in the follow-up?

  11. Thank you so much Norman for the “digg”! Please keep coming back.

  12. Thank you for the compliment and please extend my gratitude to your cousin for recommending this site to you. Please come again.

  13. Thank you and please come again!

  14. How wonderful to get an recommendation. Thank you for the compliment and pass my gratitude along to your cousin. Please keep coming back!

  15. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. Please keep coming back!

Leave a Reply

Using Gravatars in the comments - get your own and be recognized!

XHTML: These are some of the tags you can use: <a href=""> <b> <blockquote> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>