The Dangerous Myth of Natives
Opinion by M. Ellis | May 28, 2007
Before the Point Reyes National Park Service announced their plan to exterminate
the axis and fallow deer, a simple illusion had made my world a happier, softer
place. I believed myself to be a devoted fan of park rangers, the Nature Conservancy,
the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club. I vaguely imagined that the people who
dedicated their lives to working for these groups must share my own love of nature
and awed reverence for the splendor of creation and, indeed, for life itself. It has
been a painful lesson for me to learn that I have been wrong.
To get to the aching heart of my personal disillusionment, I have to take you back
to the previous century, to one of the darkest decades our planet has ever witnessed:
the 1940's. As infamous and well-documented as the works of Nazi Germany are, it
remains a little known fact that they sought not only to exterminate human beings
whom they viewed as inferior and non-native, but that they also set about destroying
all animals and plants which they categorized in this way. Their goal of a 'pure'
world drove them to commit the atrocities that civilization must never forget.
Imagine my heavy spirit and chilled bones upon learning that the National Park
Service, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club are today
marching under this same banner, with these same goals of exterminating all classes
of life that they deem to be non-native.
I want to make it clear here that I am speaking of the official positions being
declared by these four groups. I am not ready to accuse individual, local
citizens who may be tied to these groups through their jobs and their understandable
need to make a living. There is still time for such people to truly evaluate
whether they wish to continue their affiliation with these organizations. The
Audubon Society, in particular, is presenting a baffling dilemma to many members of
long standing who strongly disagree with the killing of species of animals. Numerous
donors are withdrawing their funding over this issue and many more are simply trying
to understand why a society whose organization is founded on a passionate delight
in the life of birds would offer support to an organization whose mission is to
inhumanely slaughter animals.
It is the dangerous myth of natives that is at the root of all of this evil. The
officiating members of these groups, many of whom are educated scientists, have
developed a frightening blind spot. They are drawing an arbitrary line in the sands
of time and declaring that all species present in a region before the line are
native, whereas all species appearing after the line are alien.
It is this method of reasoning that allows them to say that black-tailed deer
(believed to have evolved some 5 million years ago) are native but that fallow deer
(brought to the Point Reyes area in the 1950's) are non-native. One can almost follow
the logic in an example like this, where one species appears to have inhabited a
region for so much longer than another. However, the system breaks down once you
come to terms with the fact that the natural history of the earth is really a series
of enforced or voluntary migrations of seeds, animals and human beings. These
migrations began at the beginning of life on earth and are still going on today.
This is Nature's way. Not neat. Not orderly. Not about grids, lines and rows.
Nature's way has always been to let life flow over the planet, causing change, after
change, after change. We are wrong to try to stop this. If we could succeed; the
result would be a museum - not a living planet. The result would be a dead thing.
The quest for genetic purity means that most of the food crops grown in the
United States would have to be destroyed, because they come from China, South America,
and Africa. The quest for genetic purity means no opossums or foxes, or eucalyptus
trees in the California Bay Area. The quest for genetic purity means no roses in your
garden, no dogs or cats in your yard, and certainly, no cows on the hills.
Some 5,000 years ago, the Miwok Indians were the only human beings living along
the Point Reyes seashore. And then came the European conquistadors of the 1500's.
Can we consider the Miwoks to have been truly native with 5,000 years of residence
to their credit? Can we consider the explorers, the usurpers of the land, to be
natives with only 500 years to their name? Must the Park Service evacuate West Marin
of all peoples of Caucasian heritage in order to turn the land back to its earlier
inhabitants? And need we make the point that the Point Reyes National Seashore Park
is an invention of only yesterday? Beyond a doubt, the presence of park rangers offers
perhaps the strangest, most contrived and least native sight in the region.
But here, we hit upon the greatest and most dangerous assumption of all - that man
is somehow excluded from the question of natives. His roads, his polluting vehicles,
his machines, his weapons, his buildings, and, indeed, his very self is held to be
beyond the judgment he seeks to enforce on the rest of creation. This is what gives
the lie to the environmental cleansers. If they truly wished to return the land to
some pristine, prehistoric state, their first step would have to be to absent themselves
from the scene.
Mankind is the relative newcomer on the planet. We are the babies playing amongst
the ancient species of trees, of plants, of animals. And yet, conscience has yet to
stop us from pretending that we are the great Creator of all. The men and women who
are drawing up the plans, the positions and the strategies for the NPS, the Audubon
Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club are presuming to take rights
to themselves that no one has given them. Under the temporal delusion that they own
the lands and all that they contain, they are recklessly killing hundreds of thousands
of individual animals and plants every year under their banner of purity.
It seems to me that the worst evils in the world, the ones that have most hurt my
faith in humanity and my belief in the goodness of life, are the evils that are
presented under the guise of righteousness. The church leader who steals his parishioners'
money, the politician who lies to his people, the environmentalist with a gun in his
My eyes are open now. The world is uglier. To the leaders of these groups whom
I once admired, I can no longer be a fool for you.