Saturday, October 26, 2019

Kari Marie Norgaard's "Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People"

Kari Marie Norgaard (non-Native Professor of Sociology/Environmental Studies at University of Oregon) has engaged in environmental justice policy work with the Karuk Tribe since 2003. She is author of Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life and other publications on gender, race, and the sociology of emotions.

Norgaard applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People: Colonialism, Nature, and Social Action, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes in the second chapter, “The Ecological Dynamics of Settler-Colonialism: Smokey Bear and Fire Suppression as Colonial Violence.” On this page in particular I am in the middle of an in-depth account of U.S. Forest Service views on Indigenous fire management. Page 99 showcases Forest Service documents from 1928 through 1950 to illustrate how language of “malicious motives” and “uncivilized” were used to discredit the sophisticated Indigenous ecological systems of fire management that the Forest Service had recently disrupted through their policy of fire suppression. Here I draw on research compiled by a number of my colleagues, especially Dr. Frank Lake whose doctoral dissertation provides a detailed review of early documents, alongside interviews with Karuk elders:
Lightning ignitions were an “act of nature” which could not be prevented or controlled like incendiarism, described as “selfish or malicious motives.” ... The incendiary problem, however, is not a fire hunt but a man hunt; not fire, but the owner of the hand that lights it, is the public’s enemy.... The hand of the incendiary is set against the public welfare and it is the duty of every citizen to help apprehend those who willfully set fires and to see that they are punished as they justly deserve (Klamath National Forest 1928:14–15). (Cited in Lake 2007, 273)
A second passage from the 1928 report illustrates not only the need the agency felt to defend the policy of fire exclusion but also the use of scientific rhetoric and discourses of “practicality” rooted in a Taylorist managerial mind-set of efficiency to justify their actions: “The existing policy of the Forest Service in fire prevention and suppression has not been reached on the basis of guesswork. It represents continuous and critical study of forest fires. Fire exclusion is the only practical principle on which our forests can be handled, if we are to protect what we have and insure new and more fully stocked forests for the future (Klamath National Forest 1928:17–18)” (cited in Lake 2007, 302). Note that it was not only a military structure but also the rhetoric of Western “science” that has been used to enact and justify state actions. Seth Suman (2009) writes, “The idea that science and technology were among the gifts that Western imperial powers brought to their colonies was an integral part of the discourse of the ‘civilizing mission,’ one vaunted by both proponents and critics of the methods of colonialism” (373, see also Adas 1989). While many advocates of indigenous burning practices now make use of Western scientific frameworks, the Western ideas of ecology that justified fire exclusion have themselves been instruments of colonialism. By 1938, the extent of burning had declined: “It is reported that in the past it was a general practice to burn timber and browse lands with the expectation that annual burnings would promote grass growth. Although this practice has been discouraged and is rarely followed now, there is still a degree of sentiment in its favor. It is believed that much of the browse cover has developed as the result of fires, and that most of the brush areas would eventually produce a fine stand of fir timber if fires were prevented and suppressed and grazing properly managed” (1938 report, quoted in Huntsinger and McCaffrey 1995, 62). Indigenous use of fire was nonetheless ongoing in the decades that followed, and this activity was a continued source of consternation for the Forest Service. The 1950 Six Rivers General Inspection Report included a focus on what they term the “Indian Incendiary Problem” and included this passage regarding the issue:
One problem area exists; the “river strip.” ... There is a fairly large Indian population here and the area is still “west of the Pecos.” The State has apparently not yet decided to take fire control laws across the river. Previous attempts brought a threat of bloodshed.... It looks as if we will have to live with this problem a while longer—until the area becomes more civilized, lending the State any assistance needed in developing an attitude toward protection among the local people. Perhaps the burning of basket grass areas and doe pastures would do the job. (USDA, Six Rivers National Forest 1950: 27–28, cited in Busam 2006, 60)
This page is certainly representative of one of the major themes in the book, namely the ways that colonialism is ongoing today through land management policies, and more specifically how profoundly negative characterizations of Indigenous sciences and management practices form justifications for fire suppression. So yes, readers would get a decent view of the book as a whole from this page. This page is less representative of other important aspects of the book in that it doesn’t have any quotes from Karuk people, or any descriptions of either the social impacts of present-day Western land management, or of the many actions Karuk people are taking to create change. First person accounts of both present circumstances and the many positive ways people are moving forward are also major parts of the book.

Nor would readers know that the book as a whole is a call to action for sociology and the other social sciences to better engage Indigenous peoples’ perspectives. To that end, another key ongoing theme concerns the relationships between racism, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and environmental degradation—especially as theorized within sociology.
Learn more about Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue