Article InformationEdit

Title: From Federal Paternalism to Political Autonomy: White Mountain Apache Cultural Appropriation of Science and Technology, 1933-2000

Author(s): David Tomblin

Affiliation: Virginia Tech

Presented At: STiS 2008

Primary Topic Area: Sustainable Development


What role has science and technology played in the political and cultural resurgence of Native American tribes in second half of the 20th century? My paper explores this question through a historical case study of the White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in east-central Arizona. Since this landscape is their ancestral homeland and they depend on it for economic self-sufficiency, the ecological health of these lands is integral to the survival of Apache culture. Unfortunately, the Apache, like many American Indian tribes, have had a long history of exploitation of their natural resources by outside interests, which resulted in the environmental and cultural degradation of their lands. Key to stopping this exploitation was the Apache reclaiming control over their natural resources from the federal government (mainly the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in the latter half of the 20th century. An important aspect of this political resurgence was the cultural appropriation of the science and technology of ecological restoration, which led to successful elk, trout, and forest restoration projects in the 1960s and 70s. These early achievements contributed to the erosion of paternalistic federal policies and granted the Apache political leverage when dealing with federal natural resource management agencies. Eventually new relationships emerged between the Tribe and federal agencies that fostered a coevolutionary exchange between indigenous and Western traditions, culminating in a unique brand of ecological restoration by the 1990s. One of the most significant contributions the Apache made to restoration projects was they adapted ecological restoration to serve local needs rather than off reservation interests. The Apache, therefore, laid the foundations for self-sufficiency by designing projects that perform the tripartite function of healing reservation lands long overexploited by off-reservation interests, establishing a degree of economic freedom from the federal government, and restoring and maintaining cultural traditions. The key lesson learned here is that allowing local communities to take ownership of a scientific process such as ecological restoration increases the likelihood that local communities, especially indigenous peoples, will embrace the potential benefits of science and technology.

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