Sample Paper on Native American’s view of Pollution


The Native Americans are considered the pioneers of environmental conservation initiatives. According to Barry and Gane (2014), the Indian culture teaches the existence of harmony between humans and the natural environment. The native Indians viewed man as an integral part of the society to whom the responsibility of protecting and conserving the environment is bestowed. This worldview by the Native Americans saw the inception of geology, which was a new area of study in environmental conservation.

Environmental ethics encompasses a series of interventions that inform man on how he ought to behave or act towards the natural life. The core values of Native American natives are in agreement with environmental conservation strategies thereby, adhering to a rich cultural heritage that champion for the conservation of resources.

Chief Seattle vision of environmental conservation

A study by Bruce (2010) reveals that Native Americans followed a set of unique ethics, which are highly attributed to Chief Seattle. The values propagated ideas that made people conscious of the need to conserve the environment. He further notes that Seattle gave the analogy of the society and man where he likens relationship of man and the environment to that of blood family members.

Primarily, the native Indians were farmers. They mostly practiced shift cultivation where they carried their farming activities on a virgin piece of land. Once the minerals were depleted, they abandoned the land and moved on to another fertile piece of land. This system led to massive deforestation and damage to the natural resources. Chief Seattle emphasized the need for the Native Americans to appreciate farming practices that could champion harmony between man and his environment for posterity. His views that every part of the land has to be treated as a sacred place for his people cultivated the spirit of environmental conservation. Natives were not only concerned with the exploitation of resources but also on how to engage best practices that would lead to protection of the environment and natural resources (Hoogland,2013).

Besides farming, the Indians were hunters. Men hunted game meat to supplement their diet. Despite the fact that there was plenty of game meat, Indians only choose specific parts of the game meat, leaving the rest to rot. For instance, Boylan (2013) noted that the native Indians used to hunt buffalos that inhabited cliffs and mountainous regions. However, the natives only consumed particular parts of the game meat. The leftovers would be left for scavengers or left to decay. Chipewyan Indians on the other hand used to slaughter a number of muskox and caribou. An interesting aspect of their eating habits was that they would take a few tongues for consumption then leave the rest of the meat to decompose.

The aspect of conserving soil through the addition of organic matter can be traced back to the times of the Native Americans. This community understood the essence of humus in the conservation of the soil. Decaying organic matter from animals and tissues could become humus. The manure helped in holding the soil particles together thus preventing land degradation processes like soil erosion and denudation (Meier et al., 2014).

Initially, the demand for hides, game meat, and fur was relatively small owing to the dispersed settlement pattern of the native Indian population. Bunya (2011) further notes that the small number of Native Americans reduced the demand for wildlife compared to the supply in the wilderness. However, depletion of game meat resulted from the tragedy of the commons scenario. Vivian (2009) describes this phenomenon as a condition that happens when no one can claim ownership of a particular natural resource and that anyone can access it at will. The wildlife in this scenario was the commons. No one can claim ownership of animals in the bush until they have been killed. If you left an animal in the forest, there was likelihood that someone else would kill it.

The fact that no one had direct control over how exploitation of wildlife is to be conducted created a condition that threatened the population of wildlife. There was no incentive to take care of these natural resources. Animals like mastodon, mammoth, saber-tooth cat and ground sloth got extinct because of overexploitation by exceptional hunters. The situation worsened with the coming of European settlers and colonial masters who had the capitalistic mindset that paid no regard to environmental conservation. It created demand for wildlife products. The Europeans wanted fur and hides for their textile industries. This development compelled the Indians to trap some of these indigenous animals in exchange for goods like clothes, firearms, beads, and knives. There existed neither structures nor legal frameworks that regulated the hunting. The process lead to the extinction of a large population of animals that were fur bearing (Yael and Seideman, 2009).

A study by Serena and warms (2009) was cynical of the idea that Indians lived harmoniously with the nature. He argued claims that Native Americans carried out their activities without causing any harm to the natural environment. This claim was synonymous with saying that they never touched anything that existed in the physical environment, a fact that would make them lack history. The history of a community according to Merchant (2013) is defined by the manner in which members of that particular community interacts with the natural environment in shaping their future.

Although native Americans often manipulated their environment to bring a desired change that could guarantee them existence and sustainability, the impact of their activities caused minimal impact on the environment compared to their colonial masters from Europe. The Europeans would exploit any resource they lay their hands on for the sake of their industries and maximization of profits. The Europeans considered America a wilderness and the idea of conserving land or natural resources in such an environment was not only absurd but also impractical. The Indians however shaped their ecosystem profoundly since their culture works in unison with a belief in posterity (Bruce, 2010).

Incentives for environmental conservation

Native Americans were conscious of the need to develop a culture where members of the community took responsibility in matters concerning environmental protection. This drive existed despite exceptional conditions that caused a “tragedy of commons scenario” where no one bothered about being accountable to what happens to the natural environment. The Indian community in America emphasized that a person’s activities have to be guided by spiritual values and personal ethics (Meier et al. 2013). However, values and ethics were supposed to work hand in hand with communal and private ownership of properties and rights. The rights defined frameworks that clearly explained conditions one had to fulfill before exploiting any resource in the environment. These rights also provided structures used to identify and reward for people who were engaged in good environmental stewardship.

There are many similarities in the way American Indians organized their activities in comparison to the modern age. First, the modern government has the responsibility of protecting the natural environment through the establishment of legislations that governs exploitation of resources. For Indians, the word nation referred to various Indian tribes even though they did not work in organized formal structures of the government. The majority of these tribes composed small groups with independent administrative structures. The only time these tribes came together is during major celebrations.

Native Indians did not have a formal written language. Bunya (2011) argues that this alienated them from developing a formal legal framework that could be useful in communicating their ethics on issues concerning matters of the environment to members of the community.

Rights to Resources

The existence of institutions which clearly defined who has a right to fishing, hunting territories, land and personal property made Native American amass a lot of wealth. Hoogland (2013) reiterates that the existence of structures that guided who to exploit a particular resource in Indian history created the modern property ownership rights a fact that conditioned interference in the natural ecosystem by human beings.

Rights to land and water

Land tenure system among native Indians in America varied significantly. Land ownership was entirely communal. Individualistic ownership was highly discouraged by the community. There was a scarcity of land owing to the degree of private land ownership, a fact that made it difficult to enact legislations that governed the rights to land ownership. Those people who owned land made massive investments in the area since it was easy to demarcate. However, ownership of land in the Indian community was a reserve of the clan or the family, unlike the current individual land ownership. For instance, family members among Mohican Indians had the hereditary privilege of using well-structured tracks of land along riverbeds for cultivation. Europeans acknowledge this system of land ownership. Whenever they wanted to buy land, they had to seek the consent of family leaders (Boylan, 2013).

Those Indians who lived in the southwest part engaged in settlement farming, and private land ownership was shared here. Every family harvested their produce and kept them in their personal stores. Contributions to the public store were voluntary, and the chief who is in charge of public needs used the produce here in the event of an acute food shortage under authorization. On the eastern part of this country, the chief assigned each family land since there were large tracks of land. The chief used to oversee the cultivation process and allowed each family to harvest their plot.

The Pueblo Indians in Colorado developed land ownership rights, which reflected their aspirations to conserve the environment. The Hopi sub-clan took advantage of the periodic floods in Colorado basin during summer by erecting stone barriers, which was crucial in checking the speed of the water (Vivian, 2009). The strategy enhanced retention of moisture in the soil while at the same time protecting the crops from floods. This technique formed the basis of modern flood control and irrigation as a strategy to conserve soil.

Rights to hunting

In areas where Native Americans primarily depended on hunting and fishing, there was a need to control the aces to hunting and fishing grounds to prevent overexploitation. These were in response to the” tragedy of commons” where no one cared about nature as everyone was for himself. The customary laws that governed hunting and fishing grounds were expressed in spiritual and religious spheres, unlike the conventional methods. These methods were relayed in science and technology. Nonetheless, the rules were effective in conserving the environment at that time. The strategy gave rise to the modern aquatic and wildlife conservation strategies (Bunya, 2011).

Establishment of hunting territories was a common scenario among Indians who lived in the northern part of the country. Individuals were allowed to hunt at a given place for a stipulated period and move to the next place. Rules guiding the hunting activities were established. Hoogland (2013) reports that, whenever a hunter marked a territory, no other hunter would willingly or knowingly encroach his region for whatever reason for generations. In some areas, families owned hunting grounds and the search for game meat would be done on a rotational basis. The practice helped to avoid depletion of the resources in a particular region. The ownership of such territories could be passed down generations. The main essence of this ownership was to guarantee a constant supply of game meat and vegetables to the family while at the same time protecting the environment from external invasions by trespassers.

Paiute Indians who lived in Owen valleys of California also protected their gathering, hunting and fishing territories from trespass. Boylan (2013) reports that the community nominated individuals who would take charge of securing territorial borders. The protection of these hunting and gathering grounds came with benefits to environmental conservation as natural trees, ridges, mountains and rivers bound the restricted areas. These are significant resources in supporting of biodiversity. No group was supposed to encroach on territorial grounds of boundaries belonging to a neighboring clan unless in exceptional cases in the event of starvation. However, the chief still had the overall say, as he was the one allocating the hunting territories and always advocated for the collective management of each area. Hunting was also controlled by norms and customs of harvest. The Indian communities had particular headmen who could approve when to hunt based on their experience in hunting affairs.

Fishing rights

Those Indians living in the Northwest Pacific had established effective fishing rights. Some of the fish that they captured included the salmons in the oceans and Spawn in fresh water bodies. They used weirs, fish wheels and other appliances at shoals and falls where fish used to channel naturally (Meier et al., 2013).

The fishing technology was so effective and threatened to deplete these aquatic resources. The Indians realized the need to allow some fish to escape to encourage breeding. This strategy was achieved through the fact that once the Indians felt that they had captured enough fish for consumption, they would remove weirs from water to allow the fish that they did not need to escape upstream. The fish that escaped could lay eggs, which guaranteed Native Americans of a steady supply of fish in the future. Modern fish conservation strategies like the use of standardized nets that only captures big fish and allow the small fish to go back to water were borrowed from Native Americans. In addition, Restriction to fishing for some months to allow fish to breed and grow dates back to the time of Native American.

The salmon was the fish mostly consumed by the Haida Indians. The clan members restricted the access to fishing grounds by persons who were strictly members of their family. They excluded members of other families from accessing their fishing territories. Those found trespassing were been severely punished. Yitsati, the head of the house, had the final say on issues regarding fish exploitation. He was empowered to decide on when to fish, levels of harvesting and the fishing methods.  Although it is not clear how powerful Yitsati was a study by Yael and Seideman (2009) reveals that, there was an adequate and steady population and supply of salmon for a long period. This was because of the rules enforced by these community leaders. The population of the fish reduced tremendously because of indiscriminate fishing by Europeans who exploited the fish for their industries.

Ownership of private items

Ownership of land and other natural recourses varied and so did personal items like clothes, women-owned utensils, and houses. Women for instance gathered hides, scraped, and turned them in preparation for a ceremony for sewing the hides by members of the community. Natural resources could be shared freely but once a task was complete, the final product belonged to the family members who initiated the work and not the community.

The culture of Native Americans institutionalized the concept of private ownership. Due to scarcity of recourses, community members had to walk for long distances to get hard stones that they used to make arrows. This shortage led to the individualization of weapons and properties. The use of horses also revolutionized the transport sector whereby the horses could be used in chasing buffalos when hunting. These made the price of the horse go up compared to any other commodity (Bunya, 2011).


The right to property played an integral part in encouraging environmental conservation in the culture of Indians. However, in the event that an activity was undertaken communally, the society stipulated mechanisms to recognize individuals who exhibited exceptional abilities in the task. For instance, during the hunting of buffalos, an individual whose arrow killed the animal could have a privilege of taking the skin and other special parts of the game meat. The act explains how Indians appreciated the use of incentives in developing institutions that fosters good relations between human being and the natural resources. Well-defined property rights encouraged community members to conserve scarce resources. Spirituality and ethics guided the manner in which an individual could relate to his environment.


From the discussion, it is evident that Native Americans were the pioneers of environmental conservation initiatives. The act of living in harmony with nature is deeply rooted in the Indian culture and religious beliefs. It emphasizes the need to conserve the environment for posterity. The need to have a safe environment prompted American Indians to establish various initiatives for conserving the ecosystem. These consequently gave rise to modern conservation structures. There is a need for the modern society to create institutions that will inform the state on how resources can be exploited and the establishment of frameworks that recognize and reward individuals who take leading roles conserving the environment.

The arrival of Europeans with their extreme capitalist ideologies ruined the gains that had been realized by the Native Americans over years of living in harmony with nature. The colonial masters exploited natural resources without considering a need to protect the environment since they viewed the region as a wilderness.









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