The idea of the “noble savage” places indigenous peoples as inferior, justifying the control and colonization of both indigenous peoples and the environment
Peter Jacques, Ph.D. University of Central Florida, et all, Sharon Ridgeway, Ph.D. Grinnell College and the University of Iowa, Richard Wiimer, Ph.D. Grinnell College, 2003, “Federal Indi Law and Environmental Policy: A Social Continuity of Violence”, Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation, Vol. 18, p. 223-250, Academia.edu, acc. 3/23/13
"The history of man's effort to subjugate nature is also the history of man's subjugation by man."45 Control of Indian people by controlling Indian land is a poignant example. Given colonial visions of the European superiority in ideas of religion, government, culture and control of the environment, Indian nations were not permitted to have the same control of resources as Europeans. Instead, Indian title was a compromised version of land and resource control that only implied use and occupancy, not mastery of land and resources that the Europeans assigned themselves. Western ideas of title included fee simple property that could be sold. In contrast, "aboriginal title" did not allow similar transfer/sale privilege.. 6 Aboriginal title was not determined by examining the governance systems in place-which were complex and largely well-organized in egalitarian and peaceful means4 7-but through race. This is evident in the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Sandoval. In Sandoval, Pueblo tribes differed from other Indian nations in that they owned their land in fee title since the time of Spanish contact in New Mexico. 48 Despite this undisputed title, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could still impose control over the reservation simply because the people were Indian. The people of the pueblos, although sedentary rather than nomadic in their inclinations, and disposed to peace and industry, are nevertheless Indians in race, customs, and domestic government. Always living in separate and isolated communities, adhering to primitive modes of life, largely influenced by superstition and [fetishism], and chiefly governed according to the crude customs inherited from their ancestors, they are essentially a simple, uninformed and inferior people.49 As the Court proclaims, application of the federal trust, plenary power and federal control of environmental policy is based on notions of an inferior race. This theory allows for the perpetuation of an institutionalized, hierarchical relationship where non- Indians control Indian land and may perpetuate violence "in good faith." Further reinforcing European notions of racial difference was the divergent relationships Indian peoples and Anglos had with nature. 50 Anglo conceptions typically viewed nature as an opportunity for material wealth based on the control of nature.5 ' This utilitarian relationship to the natural world promoted vast conversions of natural resources into usable commodities and industries. 52 These industries were then transformed into increased industrial and military capacity used to further expansion and to acquire more resources.53 In contrast, many tribal epistemologies did not recognize the ability to own or master an animate nature.5 4 Viewing nature as alive restricts the uses of natural resources and severely restricts commodification and industry as a matter of respect. 55 Conversely, viewing nature as inanimate, as did Anglos, allows for maximum exploitation.5 6 Some scholars see this type of worldview as a foundation for imperialism because societies that extract the most short-term energy from natural resources gain dominant social positions and power over those who temper their exploitation. 5 7 A. The Doctrine of Discovery The English colonists came up with two justifications for taking the Native Americans' lands. First, they argued that colonists would civilize the Indians and 'cover their naked miserie, with civil use of foode and cloathing.' In royal charters given to the companies organizing the colonization, mention was always made of the obligation to bring Christianity to the 'savages.' The other part of the rationale was that Europeans could put the land to a 'higher use,' making it more productive by intensive cultivation and by bringing in livestock. In 1625, Samuel Purchas argued that God did not intend for the land to remain as 'that unmanned wild Countrey, which [the savages] range rather than inhabite.'58 From the very beginning, Europeans sought to control the ontology of nature by imposing western norms of separating nature from society. Groups with a communal and cohesive relationship with nature were seen as outside of the social contract and were marginalized as irrational. As such, "savage as the wolf" and "noble savage" constructions were used to imagine American Indian people as inferior.5 9 These characterizations become the underlying justifications for domination of people portrayed as "unfortunate children of nature"6 0 who need to be controlled, managed and dominated like nature itself under the rubric of Enlightenment civilization. The first version of colonial jurisprudence to utilize this characterization in the United States was the method of dividing resources for use via title, as understood by discovery tenets.