A buried history of conflict


Anna Smith’s article on the challenges the Cow Creek Band has faced in regaining and now managing forest lands in Oregon is the kind of piece that both informs and challenges readers. The challenge thrown down by some tribal members is quite provocative: Shawn Fleek’s quote — “The conservation movement began as a way for settlers to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands under the pretext that Native peoples didn’t know how to manage them” — is something I hope HCN follows up on. Such settlers generally seemed to presume they were simply better and more modern and were rarely conservationists. There are numerous times and places where conservation groups and Native Americans have come into conflict, but I can’t recall seeing those groups in their early days complaining about Native management of lands. Maybe this history is buried, or maybe it is a misapprehension of how such groups came to oppose tribal land management. Many early conservationists seemed to think that Native Americans had little or no impact, acting to leave a pristine natural environment for the public to enjoy. That fantasy of “wilderness” wrote Native Americans entirely out of the landscapes they had managed. Even now, as some land-management agencies return to the low-intensity fires used for centuries, they pretend this replicates “natural” fires. The conflict and misunderstandings between conservation organizations and Native American tribes are well worth exploring, even as both regard the government as their opponent. 

Craig Jones
Boulder, Colorado

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