Opinion: Indians took care of environment

"The normally placid environs of the Aspen Institute’s campus, above the juncture of Castle Creek and the Roaring Fork River, were awash in human frenzy as the institute’s Environmental Forum cranked into high gear last week.

Old junker Subarus fought for parking spaces with high-priced SUVs; bejeweled and fashionably draped scions of wealth and privilege strode purposefully toward the Doerr-Hosier Center while swanky black Hybrid SUVs sped past in manic flight. Those gleaming behemoths sported signs shouting their status as shuttle vehicles for Forum participants, but all those that I saw were empty, and their pilots seemed determined to get to some unknown destination at top speed, regardless of the risks to human and other life that happened to step into their paths.

Inside the Doerr-Hosier Center, a buffet table filled with delicacies offered a bit of sustaining energy to the participants, who were seated in overflow style at tables while a small band of American Indians gave the welcoming invocation onstage at the front of the room.

The juxtaposition of the luxurious surroundings, the pampered guests and the Indians in full regalia was, to me, a bit disconcerting. Not two centuries earlier, the ancestors of these two disparate people might just as easily have been firing guns and arrows at each other as the battle for ownership of the Roaring Fork Valley wound to its inexorable conclusion.

And, in fact, the words of these native inhabitants of this land appeared to echo my sense of alarmed confusion. It seems as though every other phrase was some variant on a theme that we “white eyes” have put ourselves in charge of this continent, and we aren’t doing a good job of keeping it together. And the truth behind the words is a demand that we get it together or give it up, possibly to dump the whole thing back in the Indians’ collective lap.

The undercurrent, of course, is that the Indians did much better as they muddled through their tenure at the top of the animalistic hierarchy here, but of course they didn’t have plastics, an oil-based economy and a penchant for fouling their own nest, all of which seem to have become the ruling ethos of white society."

Get the Story:
John Colson: American Indians: It’s on your shoulders now (The Aspen Times 3/29)