Queen Victoria

A proud hunter and her first deer; the photo and story were published on centralspeaks.com.

There was an interesting profile, written by Ellen Barry, which ran in the New York Times this past spring about a guy named T. N. Pandit, an anthropologist from India who spent the 1960s and 70s convincing two isolated indigenous tribes – the Jarawa and Sentinelese – to put down their bows and integrate with mainstream society. The piece is poignant in that now, late in life, Pandit is filled with regret about his work.

Before contact these were proud peoples. Pandit remembers one Jarawa girl, saying: “I can never forget her face, though it was many years back. She sat in the boat watching us as if she was Queen Victoria, with such dignity and such poise.”

Today, he says, there’s not much dignity left. “They have gotten infected. They have been exposed to a modern way of life they cannot sustain. They have learned to eat rice and sugar. We have turned a free people into beggars.”

It’s impossible not to feel like crap about that. Impossible, too, not to think of the modern way of life the settlers of this country brought to the indigenous natives here and all the good that did them. But I also couldn’t help but see parallels between this story and the contemporary struggles going on in some rural areas of our country. The pull quote in the newspaper version of the Pandit story read:

“What an amazing community, but it has been diluted in its outlook, its self-confidence, its sense of purpose, its sense of survival. Now they take it easy. They beg for things.”

Couldn’t the first line of that quote apply to those coal communities in Appalachia that last November so soundly rejected the party that was promising job re-training so the miners could turn their hard hats in for nursing scrubs and join the modern world, a solution so eminently practical but so spiritually hollow. Doesn’t it help explain the conservative-leaning politics of those rural areas, where a people whose whole ethos revolves around taking care of themselves tend to view government handouts, fairly or unfairly, as a means of turning free persons into beggars.

Couldn’t the first line of that quote also apply to the work people in our tribe are doing in rural communities in the Northeast, seeking to reinforce and strengthen their connections to the land, to their roots. The catch-all term is land conservation, but in equally substantive ways this whole thing we do is about cultural conservation. We advocate for the working landscape because we know what happens when rural areas become something else; when we learn to eat the supermarket groceries; learn to buy the oil heat; learn to love the nice paved roads that treat our suspension better than the anachronistic dirt ones. Farms get turned into subdivisions and forests get wrapped in velvet ropes, yes, but the people also lose their self-confidence, their purpose, their sense of survival.

There was no picture I could find of the specific Jarawa girl Pandit remembers, but I’ve seen girls around here looking like Queen Victoria as they showed their cows and pigs at the Washington County Fair. As they strode through the family farm field with fistfuls of fresh-picked carrots. As they proudly showed off pictures of their first deer to their elementary school classmates.

I want to save that.

  1. Bruce Conner → in Katonah, NY
    Jun 23, 2017

    What a great editorial. Pictures do say a 1000 words.

  2. Sandy Olson → in Maine
    Jun 23, 2017

    The only difference is that the coal miners life is killing them had. That they are not healthy and happy. The factory workers were getting high union wages and had boats and cars and lived well, not exactly the same but maybe closer. Farmers that will not plant different crops to keep their farms going and are living on government subsidies…The indigenous people were flexible and resilient. They adapted to place. They were free. not sure it is the same. The family farmer of a while ago is close.

  3. Ed Wright → in Clarence, NY
    Jun 27, 2017

    Another fine editorial, Dave. I believe your phrase “cultural conservation” succinctly describes the mission of Northern Woodlands. Keep it alive, it’s worth saving.

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