Removing Indians to create National Parks

Although most of our readings for American Wilderness so far have focused on Euroamerican conceptions/constructions, we’ve inevitably discussed Native Americans some in the midst of our conversations (often prefaced with something like “I know Sellers wants us to say something about Native Americans, so…”–I guess they’ve got me partly figured). Next week we’ll finally focus on them, with this book about Indian removals in the making of the National Park System. Because hey, now that those early-20th-century Americans want to protect spaces that constitute their idea of “wilderness,” they need to get rid of those people/cultures whose inhabitation marked spaces as “wilderness” for earlier Euroamericans; wild Indian cultures couldn’t possibly have transformed those places and made them not wilderness when Europeans needed to justify colonization, but a few centuries later they suddenly threaten the integrity of wild spaces whose preservation was important to the future of the U.S. (hopefully you all detected a whiff of sarcasm there).

As an aside, last semester in U.S. Environmental History, we read Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation. It’s a nice complement to Spence in that Jacoby points out it’s not just Indians being removed–rural whites are similarly positioned as threats to the integrity of the parks and their wildernesses because of how they use those spaces for subsistence–often in sustainable ways due to their own socially imposed conservation measures. Nonetheless, their established activities, which have already helped shape those landscapes and ecosystems, are suddenly criminalized as the parks are established and protected.

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