Sunday, November 01, 2015

The fate of the Bison?

Aravindan Neelakandan has a long essay from which I excerpt this:
For Native Americans the buffalo was a sacred resource to be utilized according to human need. For many tribes, the animal is sacred because in their sacred lore the buffalo and humans share a common mythological origin. The nomadic lives of the Native American tribes centered round the sacred bison. Though they did consume the meat of the bison they never slaughtered them wanton and venerated it as a ‘sacred animal’.
If in India cow veneration was deemed uneconomical burden for the Indian farmer, in United States extermination of the sacred bison, was essential for the agricultural settling of native Indians. United States Interior Secretary Columbus Delano wrote in 1872 that he would not be sad for the ‘disappearance’ of the bison as he regarded it as a means of ‘hastening their (Native Americans’) sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors’. But the real reason was no civilizational altruism but aim for political subjugation as US Representative James Throckmorton would reveal in 1876:
There is no question that, so long as there are millions of buffaloes in the West, the Indians cannot be controlled, even by the strong arm of the Government. I believe it would be a great step forward in the civilization of the Indians and the preservation of peace on the border if there was not a buffalo in existence.

The extermination of sacred bison became a feverish military and economic activity.The nineteenth-century American ruling elite were well aware of the importance of conservation of wildlife and the threats of extinction. But there was a political equation behind the extermination of bison. It was only in 1886, with the report of William T Hornaday, the chief taxidermist of the National Museum, reporting only traces of about 600 wild buffalo that Washington was shocked because ‘now that Indian was no longer a threat, Washington could afford to be shocked.’
Dan Brister, the executive director of ‘Buffalo Field Campaign’ points out the clash of worldviews behind the slaughter:
At the root of the buffalo slaughter lies a clash of cultures. The dominant Euro-American worldview holds that nonhuman animals are not entitled to the same rights as humans. Human comfort comes before animal survival. To the Lakota and other plains tribes, the notion of “people” encompasses more than the human race. Buffalo are people. Agreements have been worked out since the earliest days when people and buffalo shared life inside the earth, and the buffalo made the original sacrifice for the humans. These agreements are renewed every year through seasonal reenactments like the Sundance, a ceremony through which people sacrificed their bodies to the buffalo.
After the holocaust of the sacred bison in the American plains, along with the bleached bones of the massacred bisons also lay the shattered spine of the resistance of the Native American tribes against the atrocities and transgressions of the Euro-American colonisers.