International Institute for
Indigenous Resource Managemen


During any month of the year the staff and associates of the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management read hundreds of books, journal articles, conference proceedings, environmental assessments, and other writings. This column is our way of sharing with our readers, those writings we consider the most important and, for what it's worth, the reasons why we think they're worth reading or having.

War Against the Weak by Edwin Black.
The Politics of Cleanup: Lessons Learned from Complex Federal Cleanups by Seth Kirshenberg, et al.
Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

War Against the Weak
By Edwin Black
Avalon Publishing, 2004, ISBN: 1568583214

I have been doing a good deal of reading about global warming in an attempt to sort out fact from hype. My reading took me to Michael Creighton's novel State of Fear. The message of State of Fear is the danger of allowing politics to determine the direction of science. As an example of the risk Creighton cites the American eugenics movement and list's Black's book as suggested reading.

Eugenics deals with the improvement of hereditary qualities of a race or breed. Eugenics or selective breeding is a widely used to increase the size and weight of agricultural animals and to improve the speed of race horses. The American eugenics movement discussed by Black was an attempt to improve a different animal--the human animal

Eugenicists planned to improve the human race in two ways. First, encourage breeding between those with superior genetic qualities. The second, and most frightening, was elimination of unwanted genetic material. The result was over 60,000 Americans being forcibly sterilized because they had been determined to be genetically unsound.

Long before the Nazi final solution the United States was the leader in negative eugenics. Negative Eugenics was supported by many of the leading political and intellectual lights of the time. The government's right to forcibly sterilize was affirmed by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Buck v Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927). According to Black, the Nazis developed their theory of race purity from the American model.

Eugenics is not just a historical curiosity. For many Native Americans it is recent horror heaped on top of other horrors. In 1975 alone, 25,000 Native American women were coerced, tricked or threatened into sterilization by doctors of the Indian Health Service.

The improper use of science should be a major concern of indigenous people. Most of the victims of eugenic sterilization were guilty of nothing other than lack of cultural assimilation. Lack of education, small numbers, isolation, different language patterns, and different family structures were all criteria for being labeled “feeble minded”.

In the Nazi horror in addition to elimination of the Jews there were also campaigns against the Romany, Seventh Day Adventists, homosexuals and other minorities.

Indigenous people as minorities need to be constantly watchful for attempts based on lack of knowledge to eliminate their rights, prerequisites and existence. Eugenics was a pseudo science championed by a self styled intellectual elite. It gained strength from fear, ignorance and stereotyping. As Black says “eugenics started on Long Island but ended in Auschwitz. Dennis Gibb

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The Politics of Cleanup: Lessons Learned from Complex Federal Environmental Cleanup
By Seth Kirshenberg, et al.
Energy Communities Alliance, 2007
The publisher calls The World's Richest Indian the first biography of Jackson Barnett, a Creek Indian from Oklahoma who owned 160 acres in the middle of the world's most productive oil field. This well-researched, elegantly written book by Tanis C. Thorne is much more than that. Professor Thorne places Barnett and his wealth in the middle of the quagmire that was, and as she demonstrates with the Cobell case, still is, American Indian policy. Barnett's generosity and apparent disinterest in his wealth were manifestations of a worldview incomprehensible to white America. Senator Henry Dawes, for example, explained that selfishness was the root of advanced civilization and he could not understand why the Native Americans were not motivated to possess and achieve more than their neighbors. But if Barnett was not so motivated, there were many others who were. Jackson Barnett's story is the story of the machinations, intrigue, cupidity, racism, paternalism, good and bad intentions of individuals and institutions including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Baptist Church, and the State of Oklahoma who competed for control of his fortune. His is the human face behind the ambiguous policies that encouraged and prolonged that competition. Mervyn L. Tano
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Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
By Michel-Rolph Trouillot
Beacon Press, 1995, ISBN: 0807043109

This may seem a stretch but this is really about climate change and Indian tribes. Thus far, suggested tribal responses to climate change include undertaking emissions-capping approaches such green generation and carbon sequestration. These approaches are more than a bit silly. Realistically, Indian generated electricity is not going to move very far from the reservation and even if it could, the effect on carbon emissions would be infinitesimal.

You are what you eat—and you are what you wear, what you drive, and where you live. Consumption shapes identity. Consumption also shapes energy demand and therefore influences greenhouse gas emissions. As the first Americans to bear the burdens of climate change, my sense is that Native America, and especially Alaska Natives, would be better served to use that situation to claim the moral high ground and to exercise national and international leadership by spreading the gospel of a new culture of consumption—a culture focused on reducing demand. If this is to occur, we'll need a better understanding of the theoretical and operational framework of consumption. Thus, John Storey's Cultural Consumption and Everyday Life.

The book is a survey of theories of cultural consumption and not an introduction to the subject although Storey, in his first chapter, briefly sets out the historical role of consumption. The reader who believes, as I do, that all forms of consumption and therefore, all forms of production and service are, to one degree or another, cultural, will not be dissuaded. The book does a good job of examining the historical work on the consumption of culture and outlining different theories. It does an excellent job in directing further reading in this arena. Mervyn L. Tano

Other books by Michel-Rolph Trouillot: Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World.  
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