Perhaps because of their shared predatory nature, wolves and humans have had a long and complex relationship that lies at the heart of Michael D. Wise’s provocative Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies. Wise explores the cultural and ecological relationships between Blackfeet, bureaucrats, and stockmen in Montana and Alberta from the 1860s through the 1930s. It was a region remote geographically but also rich in real and conceptual boundaries that separated whites from Blackfeet, humans from nature, and conqueror from the subjected. Wise maintains that both whites and Blackfeet framed these cultural borders as a dualism of predation and production, and it is through that historical lens that Wise examines the collision of Blackfeet and white civilizations. For government officials and stockmen, regional domination demanded suppressing Blackfeet environmental values by ending Blackfeet hunting traditions and replacing them with farming and stock-raising, occupations that whites considered sedentary and domestic, not independent and predatory. In that process of forcing Blackfeet to participate in the region’s agricultural economy, wolves became a symbolic yardstick for whites to differentiate the legitimacy of agricultural labor from the illicit labor of Blackfeet hunters. Whites characterized native hunters as uncivilized predators who, like actual wolves, ignored real and metaphorical boundaries and challenged conventional white notions of private property. The relentless drive to demonize Blackfeet hunters and eradicate wolves and bison was less about protecting stockmen’s financial investments than it was the inevitable outcome of efforts to destroy Blackfeet culture by substituting a new set of white cultural and environmental norms for traditional aboriginal ones. For Blackfeet who struggled to maintain their cultural cohesion hunting, remaining wolf-like predators in practice and spirit, was an act of resistance to domination by powerful outsiders. Wise offers insightful examples of colonial boundary making framed within the predator dynamic. Government efforts to curtail alcohol consumption among Blackfeet, for example, were not geared toward ending social corrosion caused by alcohol abuse, but rather to remove an intoxicant that Blackfeet increasingly relied on to strengthen their bonds between their spiritual and natural worlds and embolden their cultural resistance to white conquest. The alcohol trade also incentivized a new class of white predators who destroyed the bison herds and gave rise to professional wolf eradication. In that white boundary-making narrative, stockmen who slaughtered their own cattle were not predators because they killed animals for markets, but Blackfeet who engaged in traditional bison hunting and consumption were animalistic predators with little regard for dominant white values. Only by forcing Blackfeet to become paid livestock processors could they be assimilated into the dominant culture. The cattle industry also undermined Blackfeet gender roles by ending male hunting prerogatives and shifting meat processing from women, who traditionally processed bison carcasses, to industrial slaughterhouses staffed by men. Blackfeet men still killed animals, but processing meat from cattle at an abattoir redefined them from dangerous predators into a domesticated agricultural workforce. For many Blackfeet, that work also undermined their masculinity. These cultural challenges rooted in whites’ efforts to impose social ideals split the Blackfoot community when some chose to embrace the new colonial values while others resisted. Although Wise’s predator metaphor is more convincing in some cases than others, his work is an important contribution to our analysis of white and Native American relations. It is another installment in the thread of analysis by other scholars who have examined Native American assimilation experience through their relationship with their environments and is equally as likely to inspire future historical scholarship, and perhaps controversy. Wise’s work also echoes many of the New West historians’ themes about constructed boundaries, the importance of place in culture, the conquest of nature, and the nature of conquest. The result is a nuanced and sensitive approach to the ultimately tragic process of white colonization in the Far West. Part history and part cultural anthropology, Producing Predators is yet another reminder that Native Americans had vastly divergent perspectives than their colonizers about the place of humans in their environments. Those differences resulted in profoundly devastating consequences for themselves and their world. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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