NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Myth Of Ecological American Indians

April 19, 2000

On Earth Day there will be many events applauding Native Americans for living in harmony with the environment before the evil white man came and destroyed paradise. The school children who participate in these Earth Day brainwashing exercises are not going to hear anything about the incredible environmental destruction by the native peoples of North and South America.

A recent study by Robert Whelan documents the many ways in which pre-Columbian man absolutely ravaged his environment.

For starters, Native Americans were big forest burners, since forests interfered with hunting; indeed, before the white man came there was virtually no virgin forest because it had all repeatedly been burned.

  • Lewis and Clark recorded that Indians in the Rocky Mountains would set trees on fire "as after-dinner entertainment; the huge trees would explode like Roman candles in the night."
  • Many Buffalo jump sites have been found where Native Americans stampeded huge herds over cliffs -- some sites have the remains of as many as 300,000 buffalo.
  • They often hunted animals into extinction, including the woolly mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, giant sloth, giant beaver, camel, horse, two-toed horse and dire wolf, according to environmental writer Alston Chase.

Native religious ceremonies also contributed to extinctions -- for example, women of the Crow Tribe wore dresses decorated with the teeth of 350 elk, and in Hawaii, natives made beautiful capes from the feathers of as many as 80,000 birds, some of which became extinct.

Soil erosion was common long before white settlements were established. When the land became exhausted, Native Americans simply moved on.

In many ways we treat the land better today than pre-Columbian man did, are better conservationists and stewards of the environment. Earth Day enthusiasts should cease celebrating an Eden that never was.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, April 19, 2000.


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