Neither Wolf Nor Dog: American Indians, Environment and Agrarian Change

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During the nineteenth century, Americans looked to the eventual civilization and assimilation of Native Americans through a process of removal, reservation, and directed culture change. Underlying American Indian policy was a belief in a developmental stage theory of human societies in which agriculture marked the passage between barbarism and civilization. Solving the Indian Problem appeared as simple as teaching Indians to settle down and farm and then disappear into mainstream American society. Such policies for directed subsistence change and incorporation had far-reaching social and environmental consequences for native peoples and native lands. This study explores the experiences of three groups - Northern Utes, Hupas, and Tohono O'odhams - with settled reservation and allotted agriculture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each group inhabited a different environment, and their cultural traditions reflected distinct subsistence adaptations to life in the western United States. Each experienced the full weight of federal agrarian policy yet responded differently, in culturally consistent ways, to subsistence change and the resulting social and environmental consequences. Attempts to establish successful agricultural economies ultimately failed as each group reproduced its own cultural values in a diminished and rapidly changing environment. In the end, such policies and agrarian experiences left Indian farmers economically dependent and on the periphery of American society.