Environmental Ethics

Volume 22, Issue 3, Fall 2000

J. Baird Callicott
Pages 291-310

The Indigenous World or Many Indigenous Worlds?

Earth’s Insights is about more than indigenous North American environmental attitudes and values. The conclusions of Hester, McPherson, Booth, and Cheney about universal indigenous environmental attitudes and values, although pronounced with papal infallibility, are based on no evidence. The unstated authority of their pronouncements seems to be the indigenous identity of two of the authors. Two other self-identified indigenous authors, V. F. Cordova and Sandy Marie Anglás Grande, argue explicitly that indigenous identity is sufficient authority for declaring what pre-Columbian indigenous environmental attitudes and values were. Exclusive knowledge claims based on essentialist racial-cultural identity, though politically motivated, are politically risky. They may inadvertently legitimate more noxious and dangerous racial-cultural identity politics and exclusion of those who identify themselves (or are identified by others) in oppositional racialcultural terms from full and equal participation in the political and economic arenas of the prevailing culture. Biologically, racial differences are entirely superficial; Homo sapiens is a single, homogeneous species. Contrary to Hester et al., ethnic conflict was common among pre-Columbian indigenous North American peoples. Other indigenous authors, among them McPherson, have found my comparison of pre-Columbian indigenous North American attitudes and values with the Aldo Leopold land ethic to be illuminating. I wish I had not said that pre-Columbian indigenous North American attitudes and values are “validated” by ecology, but rather that they and ecology are “mutually validating.”