The image of the Noble Savage arises from the colonial drive to order and make sense within Western frames by labeling indigenous peoples as connected to the environment. This representation is dehumanizing and fails to acknowledge Native ontologies
Shepard Krech III, PhD and Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Brown University, 1999, “The Ecological Indian: Myth and History”, W. W. Norton & Company, New York: London, acc. 2/15/13, p. 15-27
Even though an invention of Madison Avenue, the Crying Indian is an effective image and advocate because its assumptions are not new. From the moment they encountered the native people of North America and represented them in texts, prints, paintings, sculptures, performances—in all conceivable media—Europeans classified them in order to make them sensible. They made unfamiliar American Indians familiar by using customary taxonomic categories, but in the process often reduced them simplistically to one of two stereotypes or images, one noble and the other not. For a long time, the first has been known as the Noble Savage and the second as the Ignoble Savage. The Noble Savage, the first of the two stereotypes or images, has drawn persistently on benign and increasingly romantic associations; the Ignoble Savage, the second, on a menacing malignancy The first has emphasized the rationality, vigor, and morality of the nature-dwelling native; the second, the cannibalistic, bloodthirsty, inhuman aspects of savage life. Often elements from the two stereotypes have been combined in a single portrait.2 The label savage, which English-speaking people used for North American Indians (and their imagery) for centuries, presents problems today. With its derivation from silvaticus (Latin), cognates sauvage (French), salvage (Spanish), selvaggio (Italian), and the related forms silva, selva, and sylvan—which have woodland, wooded, forest, and wild among principal meanings—savage connoted originally a state of nature.5 But in their theories of social evolution, nineteenth-century anthropologists and sociologists positioned savages on theearliest and lowest rungs of human society. Overwhelmingly derogatory connotations effaced the original woodland meanings of savage and even survived the now-discredited evolutionary schemes. Today. North American Indians frequently say that they are members of a particular tribal group or nation, or that they are Native Americans, American Indians, or (in particular) just Indians. They also refer to themselves as native or indigenous people, and sometimes as aboriginal people. For these reasons, the term Noble Indian (one manifestation of which is the Ecological Indian) is used here for the stereotype or image that others have called Noble Savage, and Indian, native, indigenous, and other terms are used for the people.4 There can be no doubt about the depth of ideas implicit in the image of the Noble Indian. Always present for more than five hundred years (even if overwhelmed by ignoble imagery). Noble Indians have, however, changed in attributes.6 In their earliest embodiment they were peaceful, carefree, unshackled, eloquent, wise people living innocent, naked lives in a golden world of nature. The origins of nature-dwelling nobles are deep in the ancient world. When Columbus speculated that he found the Islands of the Blessed and their natural residents, his readers were not surprised. They commonly linked several mythic places originating in pagan or Christian thought—-notably the Islands of the Blessed, Arcadia, Elysium, the Earthly Paradise, the Garden of Eden, and the Golden Age (collectively ideas of earthly paradise, eternal spring, and innocent life removed in space or time). Allegorical for some but literal for others who located them in geographical space, these places were objects of fancy and search in the New World and elsewhere. The potency of this imagery as a source of ennobling sentiment over two and one-half centuries simply cannot be overstated, as Europeans drew liberally on it to represent the New World and its inhabitants, in the context of a nostalgic longing for the past and a simpler life. Among many affected by Columbus was Peter Martyr, who compiled accounts of discovery and wrote of an American Indian golden world, and Martyr influenced in turn Amerigo Vespucci's famous depictions of New World lives. For centuries, they and others invoked Tacitus and other ancients, and classical analogs like Scythians (stamped by many as simple, frugal, honest, natural folk) in order to make the indigenous people of the New World comprehensible to themselves and their audiences. In Virginia, they depicted Indians leading "gentle, loving, and faithful" lives "void of all guile and treason," exactly "after the manner of the Golden Age." Elsewhere they associated primitiveness with virtue in similar scenes.6 The French, seizing on liberty and equal access to basic resources as characteristic of "savage" life and important virtues to emulate, were without peer over two centuries in developing an imagery of noble indigenousness. Michel de Montaigne. Baron de Lahontan, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were especially influential in this process. Montaigne drew widely upon Tacitus, missionaries to the New World, and Tupinambas at the French court both to laud the naturalness of Brazilians and to condemn the French as corrupt, greedy, and vain. He used the New World, one historian remarked, "as a stick for beating the Old."7 Lahontan invented a natural, noble "Intelligent Savage" named Adario as a literary device to critique the European scene (including those who left him without property). Others copied Lahontan widely, and in the second half of the eighteenth century the Noble Indian ruled, especially in Rousseau's major works presenting "savage" lite as simple, communal, happy, free, equal, and pure— as inherently good, and exemplified by America's indigenous people. Like other synthesizers with perfect timing, Rousseau was a lightning rod for charged feelings opposed to his, and a touchstone for many who subsequently portrayed Indians as gentle, egalitarian, free people living in pure nature—and in sharp contrast to life in the city and in civilization. One train of influence runs toward and converges with the nature poetry of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and others, which located the Noble Indian's day in the past, and a nearly uninterrupted path runs from Wordsworth to James Fenimore Cooper, best-selling author from the early 1820s through the 1840s and arguably the most important nineteenth-century figure for development of the Noble Indian imagery. Cooper's heroes are all in and of nature. Nature herself, a heroine of unsurpassed dimensions, shares the stage with Leatherstocking, the protagonist of heroic proportions in Cooper's most famous novels. Every manner of Indian can be found in Cooper's novels, Noble and Ignoble, each taking on and reproducing the character of their tribes, and Cooper's must famous Indian heroes are dignified, firm, faultless, wise, graceful, sympathetic, intelligent, and of beautiful bodily pro portions reminiscent of classical sculpture. By 1900. skill in nature, an important attribute of Coopers Noble Indians, encapsulated noble indigenousness. It fit neatly with the day's effort to reform policy in natural resources (water, forests, wildlife, and lauds and parks, from which came managed use in the progressive conservation movement), American Indian affairs, and America's youth. The most important writers for Noble Indiana from roughly 1875 through 1940 were Ernest Thompson Seton and—tor the first time— an Indian: Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), a Dakota or Sioux. Their influence was pervasive. With Captain Seth Eastman, the famous soldier artist, as his maternal grandfather, Eastman took the white man's road to Dartmouth College and Boston University Medical School. After marriage—his wife was a self-described Yankee nonconformist, avowed romantic, and vivid and accomplished writer—Eastman wrote more than ten best-selling books that ennobled Indians both by resurrecting romantic visions of lives long past and by emphasizing skills in nature, or woodcraft. Eastman sometimes pointedly apposed an idyllic past with a demoralizing present (even if the present was a way station to a positive civilized future), and contrasted Indians who kill animals because they need them with whites who kill them wantonly. In perhaps his most famous work. The Soul of the Indian, Eastman first paid homage to Coleridge, and then painted his boyhood with his relatives as natural, altruistic, and reverent, and his current life as artificial, selfish, and materialistic.8 Both Cooper and Eastman influenced Ernest Thompson Seton, first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts and charismatic naturalist, artist, author, public speaker, conservationist, and youth-movement activist who reached millions through his writings and activities. One of Seton's major goals was to instill manhood in boys through woodcraft >r outdoor life exemplified by Cooper's "Ideal Indian." Eastman's talk of the need to form character through fishing, signaling, making ire. constructing canoes, forecasting weather, and other skills—what he called the "School of Savagery" or the "natural way"—dovetailed with Seton's aims. And Seton's Ideal Indian was like Eastman's: He was kind, hospitable, cheerful, obedient, reverent, clean, chaste, brave, courteous, honest, sober, thrifty, and provident; he condemned accumulation, waste, and wanton slaughter; and he held land, animals, and all property in common, thereby curbing greed and closing the gulf between rich and poor. The imagerv of Noble Indians shifted again during the extraordinary-era of 1965-75, known primarily for violent antiwar and civil rights movements, assassination, and societal upheaval, when bitter battles were also waged over pesticides, oil spills, flammable rivers, industrial and human waste, and related environmental issues. It was during this period that the Crying Indian came to the fore, reinforcing both practical and ideological slants present in the work of Seton, Eastman, and other predecessors. New Ecological Indians exploded onto the scene. As critics linked many current global predicaments to industrial society, spoke openly of earlier less complex times as being more environmentally friendly, and castigated Christianity for anthropocentrism, they marshaled Ecological Indians (as deployment of the Crying Indian makes clear) to the support of environmental and antitechnocratic causes.1" Ecological Indians constituted fertile soil for those seeking alternative "counterculture!* lives. In the back to-nature movement, many sought communal life shot through with American Indian tribal metaphors and material culture, as well as native religion-—or any religious tradition, in fact, perceived as more in tune with ecology and in harmony with nature. Greenpeace marked the convergence of ecology, environmentalism, critique of the social order, and images of American Indians as ecological prophets. More widely, environmentalists joined American Indians in their vision quests and struggles, and thought of themselves as "tribalists." In their conscious antitechnocratic critique of Western society, Rousseau was reborn. American Indians embraced the new shift in perception and actively helped construct the new image of themselves. At occupied Alcatraz Island, they argued for social and political rights and advocated forming an Indian center of ecology. A new canon emerged: best-selling native texts in which nature and the environment figured significantly, and that critiqued, implicitly or explicitly, white civilization. Several crossed over notably with the environmental movement, and the new canon's expressions of an animistic world have affected many. By far most influential was Black Elk Speaks, the nineteenth-century biographical, historical, and visionary reminiscences of a Lakota holy man as told to John G. Neihardt, a poet who believed that literature existed to show people how to "live together decently on this planet." Published in 1932 to no stir, this work was rediscovered in the late 1960s and propelled by events into a widely reprinted and translated instant classic." Since those tumultuous days. Noble Indians have saturated public culture. They grace the covers of fiction and non fiction best-sellers, and pervade children's literature. They leap from movies and television screens, fill canvases, take shape in sculptures, find expression in museum and gallery exhibitions, animate dance and other performances, and appear on T-shirts. Time and again the dominant image is of the Indian in nature who understands the systemic consequences of his actions, feels deep sympathy with all living forms, and takes steps to conserve so that earth's harmonies are never unbalanced and resources never in doubt. This is the Ecological Indian. Exemplifying him, the Crying Indian brims over with ecological prescience and wisdom. On matters involving the environment, he is pure and white people are polluting. He cries because he feels a sense of loss, as (he silently proclaims) other American Indians do also. And if he could cry because he and others lived in nature without disturbing its harmonies (or throwing trash upon it), then he possessed authority to speak out against pollution. The immediate forces that brought the Crying Indian into existence, as well as the long history of images of nobility preceding this one, have borne considerable fruit. The Ecological Indian has influenced hiimanitarians concerned about the global environment and health, so-called deep and spiritual ecologists, metaphysicians and new biologists interested in the Gaia hypothesis of an organic earth, ecofeminists, the Rainbow Family and other alternative groups, and self-help advocates.12 Historians and other scholars have called Indians "the first" American environmentalists or ecologists to "respect" environmental limits and the "need to restrain human impact,"' to possess "the secret of how to live in harmony with Mother Earth, to use what she offers without hurting her," and to "[preserve] a wilderness ecological balance wheel."15 Finally (and not least), in Hollywood, the Ecological Indian has become today's orthodoxy to reach millions, as the creators of the Lakotas in Dances with Wolves or of the animated Pocahontas, who talks to Grandmother Willow, the tree, and sings about herons and otters who "are my friends" and the "hoop that never ends," play on their presumed closeness to nature, nobility, and ecological sainthood. Few visual or textual representations of the Native North American have been as persistent over time as this one has, in one form or another, and few others are as embedded in native identity today. The Ecological Indian has embraced conservation, ecology, arid environmentalism; has been premised on a spiritual, sacred attitude toward land and animals, not a practical utilitarian one; and has been applied in North America to all indigenous people. Explicit at several notable moments in the history of Noble Indians (as in the eighteenth century and today), and in the gaze of the Crying Indian, is the fact that the image usually stands against, not alone. Habitually coupled with its opposite, the Nonecological White Man, tile Ecological Indian proclaims both that the American Indian is a nonpolluting ecologist, conservationist, and environmentalist, and that the white man is not. "The Indian," Vine Deloria, Jr., a Lakota author and lawyer, has remarked, '"lived with his land/' In contrast, " The white destroyed his land. He destroyed the planet earth.™1* But what does it mean to say that Indians are ecologists or conservationists? Because they are the most consistent attributes of the image of the Ecological Indian, the concepts should be defined with care. Embedded in them are certain cultural premises about the meanings of humanity, nature, animate, inanimate, system, balance, and harmony, and their suitability for indigenous American Indian thought or behavior should not be taken as a given. Ecology, to start with, which is concerned mainly with interactions or interrelations between organisms and the animate and inanimate environments m winch tlicv live, has a distinct disciplinary history in which systemic balance, stability, and harmony have been central to ecological metaphors and premises. The idea of a well-regulated nature or of a balance in nature derives from antiquity, and through the centuries has been linked with different divine plans. In the seventeenth century, the balance was connected to God's harmony, and from that time until the late twentieth century, balance and harmony have remained central despite a major paradigmatic change from religion to science in comprehending the natural world. When George Perkins Marsh published Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, one of the most critical early works for the development of both conservation and ecology, in 1864, the title initially contemplated was Man the Disturber of Nature s Harmonies. For Marsh and many others, nature in the absence of man was self-regulating, in balance, or in equilibrium; and man if he were "imprudent" could "[disturb] harmonies," producing "exhausted regions."*'5 Over the last twenty-five years, ecology has been in ferment. For those who favor rigorous, quantitative methodologies and replicable results,j>roof that balance, stability, or harmony exists has been elusive. Ecologists have abandoned these and other long-held assumptions in favor oi chaotic dynamics in systems, and long-term disequilibrium and flux. The ferment is due to the recognition that organisms are as likely to behave unpredictably as predictably; that in the absence of human interference (if that is possible), natural systems are not inherently balanced or harmonious; and that left alone, biological communities do not automatically undergo predictable succession toward some steady-state climax community, which is an illusion. Natural systems, today's ecologists emphasize, are open systems on which random external events like fire or tempest have unpredictable impacts. As the biologist Daniel Botkin emphasized, "Change now appears to be intrinsic and natural at many scales of time and place in the biosphere."16 The implications of this fundamental shift in thought for assumptions about the very people perceived as part of nature, the indigenous people of North America and elsewhere, are profound. In a balanced, harmonious, steady-state nature, indigenous people reproduced balance and harmony. In an open nature in which balance and climax are questionable, they become,, like all people, dynamic forces whose impact, subtle or not, cannot be assumed. Some who write about environmentalism use the term ecology where they mean "environmental"—as in ecology movement. This unfortunate confusion unnecessarily conflates a scientific discipline with a moral and political cause, and muddies the definition of ecology. In this book the two terms are kept separate. Environmentalism has distinct meanings ranging from the belief that the environment and its components have basic rights to remain unmolested, to the idea that technological change and sustainable growth are compatible with proper care for the environment. One of the most inclusive— and, because of its breadth, useful—definitions of environmentalism is "ideologies and practices which inform and flow from a concern for the environment."17 When speaking of Native Americans as ecologists, we do not necessarily mean that they used mathematical or hypothetico-deductive techniques, but we should mean that they have understood and thought about the environment and its interrelating components in systemic ways (even if the system, all increasingly agree, is more metaphor than hard and bounded reality). When we speak of them as environmentalists, we presumably mean showing concern for the state of the environment and perhaps acting on that concern.18 Conservation, the second major attribute of the Ecological Indian, has also acquired different meanings through time, some of which (like the very general idea of "prudent husbanding") have ancient roots. Moreover, as w;ith ecology and environmentalisin, conservation has often been conflated with preservation—as in conservation as "preservation from destructive influences, natural decay or waste."19 Yet it makes sense to differentiate conservation from preservation. At the turn of the twentieth century, at least two separate camps debated conservation and preservation issues (the debates continue today). The most famous pitted Gifford Pinchot; widely regarded as the founder of contemporary conservationist policy in America, against John Muir, the preservationist. The two fought over the fate of Hetch Hetchy, a canyon in Yosemite National Park that thirsty urbanites wanted to make useful by a dam and lake. Pinchot and Muir battled heatedly, Muir's preservation assuming the sacral pristineness of nature and Pinchot s conservation privileging rational planning and efficient use: two very different approaches to environmental relations. Pinchot, who was Theodore Roosevelt's forestry chief, won the day even though Roosevelt had left office by the time Congress legislated damming Hetch Hetchy.20 In 1910, Pinchot wrote that conservation's "first principle" was "development, the use of the natural resources now existing on this continent for the benefit of the people who live here now." The second was "the prevention of waste,1' and the third that "natural resources must be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many, and not merely for the profit of a few."21 Conservationists, as one observer noted in 1970, were "fairly united in attacking instances of apparent waste or unwise use." Waste or unwise use included obtaining products in a manner that proved destructive to the environment when a nondestructive method would do, obtaining less than the maximum sustained yield from resources, ignoring useful by-products of extractive processes, and using energy resources inefficiently.22 Today, conservation is defined in different ways. Some regard it as management "of human use” of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations." Others emphasize that it means "all that man thinks and does to soften his impact upon his natural environment and to satisfy all his own true needs while enabling that environment to continue in healthy working order."25 Narrower definitions—by Bryan Norton and John Passmore, respectively, both philosophers—focus on conservation as* using a resource "wisely, with the goal of maintaining its future availability or productivity." or as/Jiving;"natural resources for later consumption." The conservationist promotes careful husbandry and sustainable development; if he opposes anything, it is waste. The emphasis in preservation is quite different, "a saving^/rom rather than a saving for" as in conservation, according to Passmore; specifically "the saving of species and wilderness from damage or destruction." For Norton, preservation is protecting^ "an ecosystem or a species, to the extent possible, from the disruptions attendant upon it from human use." The preservationist, in other words, seeks to keep habitats from further deterioration or use even for purposes of conservation.24 If we describe a Native American as a conservationist, we do not mean that he calculates sustainable yield into the distant future or, in a preservationist-like manner, leaves the environment in an undisturbed, pristine state, but rather that he does not waste or "despoil, exhaust, or extinguish," and that he does, with deliberation, leave the environment and resources like animal populations in a usable state for succeeding generations.25 People everywhere creatively construct meaningful frameworks for understanding their past; they everywhere actively invent tradition. "History," as Greg Dening, a historian, reminded us, "is both a metaphor of the past and metonym of the present." No matter who their authors may be, narratives about the Native American past must be read in this light. As Edward Bruner, an anthropologist, underscored, narratives about Native North Americans are contingent on the times in which they were created. They mirror relations between Native Americans and people of European descent. They reflect not just changing national governmental policies toward indigenous people, but understandings of native people that vary from one moment to the next. Given that traditions are often fashioned creatively, it seems unwise to assume uncritically that the image of the Ecological Indian faithfully reflects North American Indian behavior at any time in the past.26 Quite the reverse: For while this image may occasionally serve or have served useful polemical or political ends, images of noble and ignoble indigenousness, including the Ecological Indian, are ultimately dehumanizing. They deny both variation within human groups and commonalities between them. As the historian Richard White remarked, the idea that Indians left no traces of themselves on the land "demeans Indians. It makes them seem simply like an animal species, and thus deprives them of culture."27 In a related vein, Henry M. Brackenridge, a lawyer with archaeology as his avocation, remarked some 180 years ago on a voyage on the Missouri River how "mistaken" are those "who look for primitive innocence and simplicity in what they call the state of nature." As he traveled along the Missouri, Brackenridge mused on the "moral character" of Indians he encountered: "They have amongst them their poor, their envious, their slanderers, their mean and crouching, their haughty and overbearing, their unfeeling and cruel, their weak and vulgar, their dissipated and wicked; and they have also, their brave and wise, their generous and magnanimous, their rich and hospitable, their pious and virtuous, their frank, kind, and affectionate, and in fact, all the diversity of characters that exists amongst the most refined people." One need not believe that moral or emotional or psychological traits are universal (like most anthropologists today, I would assert that to be human is fundamentally to be a cultural being) to appreciate that no simple stereotype satisfied Brackenridge, who refused to reduce Indians to silhouetted nobility or ignobility.28 Yet as its simplistic, seductive appeal works its charm, the Noble Indian persists long beyond memory of when or how it entered currency. At first a projection of Europeans and European-Americans, it eventually became a self-image. American Indians have taken on the Noble Indian/Ecological Indian stereotype, embedding it in their self-fashioning, just as other indigenous people around the world have done with similar primordial ecological and conservationist stereotypes.29 Yet its relationship to native cultures and behavior is deeply problematic. The Noble Indian/Ecological Indian distorts culture. It masks cultural diversity. It occludes its actual connection to the behavior it purports to explain. Moreover, because it has entered the realm of common sense and as received wisdom is perceived as a fundamental truth, it serves to deflect any desire to fathom or confront the evidence for relationships between Indians and the environment.50
The image of the ecologically noble savage damages both ecology and our relationship to indigenous peoples. This image uses flawed Western concepts of conservation and environmentalism to judge the “authenticity” of indigenous peoples by treating them as children of nature and undermining our understanding of the inconsistency and complexity of ecologies. An epistemological break is key to challenge these modernist notions that erase indigenous cultures
Paul Nadasdy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Spring 05, “Transcending the Debate over the Ecologically Noble Indian: Indigenous Peoples and Environmentalism”, Ethnohistory 52:2, acc. 2/19/13, p. 292-294
Critics of this view point out that the image of the ecologically noble savage has deep historical roots and, indeed, that it is little more than a (marginally) new twist on the age-old stereotype of the noble savage (Krech 1999). And, as with the older stereotype, use of the image of ecological nobility (despite itsseemingly positive connotations) can actually have serious adverse consequences for indigenous people. The stereotype denies the realities of native people's lives, reducing the rich diversity of their beliefs, values, social relations, and practices to a one-dimensional caricature. Worse still, these critics point out, the image of ecological nobility is an unattainable ideal. Anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians have shown that indigenous people—even hunters, supposedly the most ecologically noble of all —do not live up to this ideal and never have. Instead, they have always altered their environments according to their needs, sometimes quite dramatically (e.g., Butzer 1993; Krech 1999; Paul Martin 1967; Red-ford 1991; White and Crononi988). But when indigenous people fail to live up to the impossible standards of ecological nobility, Euro-Americans tend to judge them harshly, as guilty of betraying their own cultural beliefs and values. As with older incarnations of the noble savage stereotype, the image of ecological nobility authorizes Euro-Americans to judge how "authentic" indigenous people are (see Beugei996; Conklini997; Conklin and Graham 1995; Cruikshank 1998: 60; Wenzel 1991).5 Thus, when environmentalists unexpectedly find themselves opposed by indigenous people, they are more likely to dismiss any opposition as a result of cultural loss or "contamination" than to take indigenous people's concerns seriously. There are two main problems with this standard refutation of indigenous ecological nobility. First, it is framed negatively; it focuses on what indigenous people do not do (that is, they fail to live up to an impossible ecological ideal), rather than on what they do. While this may help us understand why Euro-American environmentalists react the way they do when indigenous people do not act as expected, it tells us nothing about the latter's motives. Second, those critics of ecological nobility who make this type of argument retain an imperialist perspective insofar as they continue to evaluate indigenous people's actions according to a Euro-American ideal (they merely allow for indigenous people not to live up to it). Part of the reason the debate over ecological nobility has been unable to transcend its imperialist roots, I suggest, is that scholars have focused on only half of the problem. While they have painstakingly examined the cultural assumptions underlying Euro-American notions of "indigenousness," they have paid relatively scant attention to the equally problematic assumptions about "environmentalism" that underlie the image of ecological nobility. Yet terms like environmentalism and conservation are notoriously ill defined. Some scholars embroiled in the debate over ecological nobility (see, e.g., Alvard 1994; Brightman 1987; Hames 1987,1991) have responded to this conceptual fuzziness by coming up with more rigorous definitions. Their approach has been adopted by researchers interested in developing techniques for scientifically managing land and wildlife that will be compatible with local indigenous peoples' beliefs and practices (e.g., Zavaleta 1999). Such an approach, however, does little to advance our understanding of the relationship between indigenous people and environmentalists, because it ignores the fact that the concepts of conservation and environmentalism are of Euro-American origin to begin with, thus rendering any attempt to use these concepts to classify indigenous ideas and practices —regardless of how subtly or precisely they have been defined — extremely problematic. While many scholars (e.g., Berkes 1987,1999:151-53; Harries-Jonesi993: 49; Krech 1999: 212-13; White 1985) have acknowledged the culturally contingent nature of concepts like conservation, most nevertheless continue to use them as yardsticks against which to judge indigenous peoples' beliefs and practices in the ongoing debate over ecological nobility (i.e., either Indian people are acting as conservationists or they are not). One notable exception is Steve Langdon (2002), who argues that the standard model of wildlife conservation is based on outmoded assumptions about ecological equilibrium that fly in the face of current scientific understandings of chaos and complexity—even among ecologists. Nevertheless, this standard "puritanical" model of conservation retains its power at least in part because its roots lie in Judeo-Christian —particularly Protestant—assumptions that link "the good" with sacrifice and self-denial, while evil is seen as the product of excess and self-indulgence. Thus, Langdon argues, contemporary wildlife conservation is a constellation of beliefs and practices rooted in a particular set of cultural values rather than in some "objective" understanding of animal population dynamics. As a result, any attempt to use "conservation" as an objective measure of behavior necessarily privileges one particular set of cultural values while simultaneously obscuring the power relations that make that very privileging possible. Significantly, he then goes on to demonstrate in detail how this dynamic plays out in the case of waterfowl management in western Alaska, where the discourse and practice of conservation have undermined Yup'ik goose hunters' claims to decision-making power over local goose hunting.