Above all, it seems to me wrongheaded and dangerous to invoke historical assumptions about environmental practices of native peoples in order to justify treating them fairly. ... By invoking this assumption [i.e., that they were/are better environmental stewards than other peoples or parts of contemporary society] to justify fair treatment of native peoples, we imply that it would be OK to mistreat them if that assumption could be refuted. In fact, the case against mistreating them isn't based on any historical assumption about their environmental practices: it's based on a moral principle, namely, that it is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate or exterminate another people.
When I was fifteen, a companion and I, on a dare, went into the mound one day just at sunset. We saw some of those Indians for the first time; we got directions from them and reached the top of the mound just as the sun set. We had camping equiptment with us, but we made no fire. We didn't even make down our beds. We just sat side by side on that mound until it became light enough to find our way back to the road. We didn't talk. When we looked at each other in the gray dawn, our faces were gray, too, quiet, very grave. When we reached town again, we didn't talk either. We just parted and went home and went to bed. That's what we thought, felt, about the mound. We were children, it is true, yet we were descendants of people who read books and who were, or should have been, beyond superstition and impervious to mindless fear.
A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.
Captain Smek himself appeared on television for an official speech to humankind. [...] 'Noble Savages of Earth,' he said. 'Long time we have tried to live together in peace.' (It had been five months.) 'Long time have the Boov suffered under the hostileness and intolerableness of you people. With sad hearts I now concede that Boov and humans will never to exist as one.' I remember being really excited at this point. Could I possibly be hearing right? Were the Boov about to leave? I was so stupid.'And so now I generously grant you Human Preserves - gifts of land that will be for humans forever, never to be taken away again, now.' [...] So that's when we Americans were given Florida. One state for three hundred million people. There were going to be some serious lines for the bathrooms.
...the values ascribed to the Indian will depend on what the white writer feels about Nature, and America has always had mixed feelings about that. At one end of the spectrum is Thoreau, wishing to immerse himself in swamps for the positive vibrations; at the other end is Benjamin Franklin, who didn't like Nature. [p.91]
With the snow piling up outside, the warm dry cabin hidden in its fold of the mountain felt like a safe haven indeed, though it had not been such for the people who had lived there. Soldiers had found them and made the cabin trailhead to a path of exile, loss, and death. But for a while that night, it was a place that held within its walls no pain nor even a vague memory collection of pain.