The Dangers of Pricing the Priceless

By Madronna Holden

Land was something priceless–something that could not be bought or sold at any price– in the worldview of the traditional peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

The local peoples gathered at the treaty proceedings at Cosmopolis on the Olympic Peninsula expressed the utmost frustration in their negotiations with Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens on this point. They could not make him understand that his plan to remove them from their homeland was unacceptable, since nothing could replace their land for them.  It was a concept that Stevens did not register even as native peoples spoke of the spirit of the land, of their love for this particular place, of the loneliness of the ancestors without the presence of their descendants.

Instead, Stevens flourished gifts to replace their land.  Whether  it is a literal story-or one meant to convey Stevens’ stance-Lower Chehalis elder Henry Cultee  told me that Stevens doffed his top hat and promised to fill it with gold for every man, woman and child at the treaty proceedings.

When the Indians refused to leave their homeland in exchange for any material compensation, Stevens spoke of how the “father in Washington” would ensure their safety in exchange for their lands-but could not be responsible for their welfare if they stayed in the way of the pioneers.  Native oral tradition has it that Stevens threatened to put them all on a boat and maroon them at sea until they learned to get along if they continued to insist that they would not live on the land of others’ rather than their own.

There was no bridging the gap between the perspective which sees the land as distinctive, precious, and priceless– and that which sees the land as a thing to be bought and sold. But some Indians still tried. An Upper Chehalis man spoke these words recounted by oral tradition:  “Move my body anywhere you wish, but cut off my head and place it on the land of my people.”

Stevens still didn’t get it. When the Chehalis, the Cowlitz and the Chinook refused to sign the treaty at Cosmopolis, he blamed his failed treaty on particular recalcitrant Indians rather than on the worldview he never understood.

At the Walla Walla treaty negotiations, government agent Joel Palmer tried to sway those present by stating that he had moved all the way across the country for his own betterment. Thus native peoples could move a little distance away from their land to go to a reservation- where the US government promised to better their lives.

But Palmer’s argument at Walla Walla had the same problem as Stevens’ argument at Cosmopolis.  It was based on the assumption that one could simply exchange one bit of land for another.  This idea has been carried into the present day in the idea of “mitigation”-if one wants to develop wetlands, one must recreate or maintain a comparable wetland somewhere else. But such a notion was wrenchingly sad to a group of elders on the Muckleshoot Cultural Committee who mourned the sacred sites they had lost to highway development.

This reflects an essential aspect of the indigenous worldviews:  the sense of the unique value of individual persons, other natural life, and particular lands such that none of these can be replaced by or exchanged for any another. [1]

By contrast, the modern industrial system prices everything-including human life.  This is what got the Ford Company into trouble for its exploding Pinto gas tank-which it failed to replace after creating a balance sheet on which the value it fixed for human life didn’t make it worth the cost of repairing the tank.  Ford is not alone. Our own EPA has done this kind of analysis in its decision to continue to allow cancer-causing chemicals on the market.

In a capitalist market system, what people are willing to pay for a thing determines its value.  But as economist Mark Sagoff points out, the truth doesn’t work that way. Three will never be the square root of six, no matter how many people are willing to pay  to make it different.

I don’t think some lobbyists currently in Washington D.C. believe this point.

But we cannot just blame them:  the mindset that sees everything as being capable of being exchanged for something else has led us into manufacturing plastics to use in place of natural materials.  This has not been spectacularly successful.  We  have plastics which result not only in brain cancer suffered by workers who make them, but in the endocrine disruption caused to infant bodies by plastics leaching into milk in baby bottles. Plastics with chlorine in their formulas (such as vinyl) are particularly toxic;  and plastics with BPA  cause endocrine disruption.

The fact that we have exchanged plastics for products of natural systems causes more general problems.  If it is hard to imagine what we would do without plastics in the modern age, it is also hard to figure out what to do with them.  Sunlight only breaks them down into smaller and smaller pieces that persist and are consumed by ocean plankton–and thus they have become a part of all ocean life.  And then there is that floating soup of plastic in the ocean–most of which has blown off of landfills.

All human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic.  We have no idea what part of our physiology this replaces.

In complex and dynamic and carefully calibrated natural systems (including our own bodies), we cannot easily lift out and replace some part for another.  This should give us pause in gene splicing, where the attempt to replace one gene by another in “Roundup Ready” soybeans has produced a mysterious  “extra” gene whose effects are unknown. General problems with genetically engineered crops include gene migration which spreads genetically engineered genes for miles and the fact that genetically engineered crops have contaminated non-genetically engineered seed stocks.

It is a dangerous thing to blithely create something we cannot contain-even if its convenient business of substitution gives us something we want.  This is why the European Union has wisely created the REACH program to use the precautionary principle with respect to the creation and use of human-created chemicals.

This business of thinking we can exchange everything for something else needs to be re-evaluated.  The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high– it is devalued.  For then it can be bought.

As did those who lived sustainable lives in the Pacific Northwest for tens of thousands of years, it is time to think about and revalue the things that are priceless–before we trade them all away.

[1] See Nancy Turner’s “Lesson of a Birch” in Resurgence no. 250, for more support for this point.


543 Responses

  1. With many tribes this seemed to be the reaction after “the walk” took place. Now I do not know the timeframe between the two situations but these people knew then that they would stand for what they believed was right. It just bothers me that our then government would try and relocate the indigenous people to land that no one wanted to use or could access. Looking at the badlands in SD, is true example of barely usable lands.
    But the tribes there, decided that this is were we are going to stay and that we will take care of our own how we need to.
    In contrast, you look at Phillip Morris and the amount of lawsuits they have lost to cancer and smoking related issues. These dollar amounts are only pennies to them and will continue to produce knowing that the demand is there. Ford still has issues with their “exploding gas tanks”. It is called a Crown Victoria, the one most commonly used by our police departments. Their stance is that we can loose many lawsuits before we make up the cost of replacing all the fuel tanks with bladders. So they have not changed, just the year and model has.

  2. When I think about something that has no monetary value I think of the love I have for my family and my dogs. There is no amount in this world that would make me give them up. Some folks would say I could give up the dogs, but they are a part of who I am. We are still a mobile family because of the military so any animal that we loved which passed away was cremated so they could move too. Until we get to our forever home they will be on our mantel. It is hard to think of their spirit not being able to find their way home.Thinking of these feelings helps me to understand how the tribes might be feeling although it would only be a fraction of their pain. Generations upon generations moving, that would be like displacing a town like what happened during Hurricane Katrina.
    My mother has traveled extensively through South America since the early 1980’s. I remember after one trip she came back with stories of plastic. She said it is everywhere, on the streets, on the beaches and they have no way to deal with it because unlike glass you do not refill it. I remember looking at the photo’s and it was tragic to see.
    In time all of our ill choices will catch up with us. The things that were suppose to make our lives better might end up being our demise.

    • Hi Ann, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think it is important for each of us to know, as you do, what is so precious as to be priceless in our lives.
      The plastics your mother saw in the 1980s have unfortunately likely multiplied since then. Your last sentence is an important one. Time to assess the long term consequences of our actions so that those things meant to make our lives better, as you say, don’t end up being our demise.

    • Hi Ann, I understand exactly what you mean about the love you hold for your family and dogs. I especially like the sentiment behind cremating your dogs when they pass away and keeping their remains until you finally get to where you will settle becuase otherwise their spirit might not be able to find their way home. I have buried all my pets on my property, and now it is sacred ground to me. I will never sell it. It is more difficutl with family, because we are such a transient society, and unfortunately such a broken one (broken homes).

  3. I thought this article really hit home in a variety of ways. Plastics and chemicals have become such a mainstream in our lives, it is hard to imagine what people used before it was created. Practically everything we own is made or has a part made from some kind of plastic. I look around my room and cannot find a single nook that doesn’t exhibit the omnipresence of this material. From the numerous bottles of deodorant and hair products, the clock, TV, ceiling fan, clothes hangers, and even the laptop I’m writing on; plastic has managed to embed itself in every aspect of our lives. I am so used to it now; I can hardly imagine life without it.

    It is obvious that more attention needs to be drawn to this issue and better recycling techniques need to be implemented. I was disturbed to find that much of what we believe is going to be recycled, is actually shipped off to China where regulations for recycling are slim to none. For instance, printer and toner cartridges most often than not; end up either burning in incinerators or being dumped into the local river after all traces of ink have been extracted. In trying to do the right thing, we can actually make things worse. Without truly educating ourselves to the reality, we just assume that we are being responsible. Like the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    The exchange mindset also presents itself in our need for chemical products versus natural ones. The indigenous peoples know the earth has provided us with all the necessities we need. Food, shelter, water, plants that can heal most any ailment, etc… yet we still manufacture chemicals that our bodies and the environment cannot process to take their place. The European Union (EU) has long since mandated that cosmetics be free of cancer and birth defect causing chemicals in its EU Cosmetics Directive. Yet despite having to provide a separate line of cosmetics to market the EU, many companies still sell their contaminated products to other markets, like the U.S., who don’t have such mandates.

    I believe that consumer education is going to be the key to transform the exchange mindset. Once people realize how they are being bought and sold, action and culpability of the manufacturer’s can start to replace it.

    • Allyson, thank you for such a thoughtful comment that brings the “exchange” dynamics down to our personal choices and to consumer education. This last important point of yours here also ties into the problem with the NIMBY (not in my backyard attitude) that stops us from looking into the ways in which the products we use connect to things outside our backyard.
      Thanks for the added note about the cosmetics safety regulations in the EU. It is about time for the US to assert leadership (or at least followership!) along the same lines.

      • The precautionary principal that Europe has adopted should be adopted in the US for a multitude of technologies. However,the corporate lobby is so powerful, and probaly more so after Citizens United, that it will be a hard fight. I recall about 5-6 years ago, while oding a restoration project, I had to kill a field of weeds. I had been using Roundup (glyphosate), but some emerging research indicated it could potentially be causing deformities in frogs. I brought this up to the herbicide applicator, and asked if there were substitutions or ways to mitigate the effects. He became angry and circulated the research article and his response around through out the state,disputing it and saying the industry and applicators needed to start “educating” the consumers before they called for an end to pesticides. I was just asking for a dialogue about the research, and instead my inquiry was hut down completely (I worked for a quasi-state agency). People in our culture are more concerned about the short-term than the long-term. Also, the plastics provide an indirect conduit of chemicals into our water supplies. But let’s not forget we dump all kinds of stuff directly into our water everyday, flush it out of our bodies into the water, and all of our activites reuslt in non-point runoff into water bodies.

        • What is most tragic about the ROUNDUP data is that it has been known for many years– but did not come out– until research results got back to us from other nations. Round Up also decreases male hormones in humans as well. As an aside, too often, farmworkers wind up being the primary guinea pigs for such chemicals.
          Good for you in passing on the information in this difficult position.
          The problem with our chemical regulatory system (or one of the problems) is that it trusts chemical and pharmaceutical corporations for data on the effectiveness and safety of their chemicals without third party verification ever since Reagan dismantled all the EPA labs, so we haven’t the capability to even spot test the results industry gives us.

  4. An idea that this article brought to my mind is that European Americans, versus Native Americans seem to be nomads. We came across the ocean, then came across the continent, then we took over Hawaii and then we went to the moon. Native Americans as in this article show a love of home and a connection with the land, it is a vital part of them and with that comes a love for the land and respect for it. This is a very basic difference in mindset, as revealed too in such things as the near decimation of beavers, otters, bison, etc. We are still a throw away society. I have heard that the only man-made things that can be seen from outerspace is the Great Wall of China and a gigantic garbage dump near New York City. That must say something in agreement with this article.

    The idea that we are part plastic now in our human physiology since we have not been long-sighted in our concern for the ultimate ramifications of what we manufacture and how we dispose of the waste products, show how weak the testing and approval of new chemicals and products actually are. And now we appear to be using the same mentality and standards with genetic engineering. Wow! Our Native American brothers and sisters are very wise and correct to stand up and value nature and our connectedness to the land. Sustainable living is indeed priceless.

    Jim Jarrad

    • Thanks for your comment, Jim. Certainly a pointed image of the earth from space! The point about Europeans being nomads is right. Perhaps you saw this article on this site: which deals with the native observation of this nomadic European quality early on. Your point on testing is right on, as well. The main thrust of the precautionary principle is to reverse the carelessness you point out: making anything man-made be proven safe before it is released.

  5. Interesting correlations between the native idea of the impossibilities of exchanging their land for a different piece of land and the idea of exchanging our very bodies with the massive amounts of toxics streaming out of the products we produce. How absurd it is that we are becoming the waste repositories for the by-products of our over-rampant consumption. I was just having a similar conversation with my nine year-old daughter about how it is now fairly certain that every human on the planet has plastic inside of them. She, like most of us, didn’t even have a say in the matter. There is something very wrong about the lack of true purity that exists today. How many of us will get to walk through a virgin forest? How many of us will get to drink straight from a stream? How many of us will be born without plastics embedded within us?

    Another thought that came up for me while reading this essay was the idea of carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are allowing us to feel better about the pollution that is emitted on one part of the planet by planting trees (that may or may not actually survive and will take years to mature and soak up the carbon your flight emitted) on another side of the planet. I agree that the idea that everything is exchangeable should be reevaluated. Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking reading.

    • What a sad thing as a mother to have a conversation with your daughter over such things that she never chose, Dazzia.
      I think that carbon offsets suffer the same problems as do air pollution “credits” which allow polluting industries to exchange them with others– or foster the situation in cleaner airsheds. Instead, as you point out, we need to value such priceless things as virgin forests that will never be replaced in several dozens of our lifetimes, or streams we might drink from.
      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

      • I was also wondering about the idea of carbon offsets and other forms of mitigation banking. I have been in the business of offsetting wetland impacts for years by creating new wetlands or in some cases, just a lot more uplands (we get into landscape proportionality mapping in Florida). I never liked it, and even when we restored wetlands that were just degraded by fixing the hydrology, I never felt the wetland was recovering back to what is was, or even acheiving the lift level of the wetland destroyed. The idea of carbon credits presents even more problems. The whole issue that of placing values on ecosystem services might become very problematic – what happens when a developer can just pay a certain amount of paper money or just credit to a bank to compensate for loss of ecosystem services? Right now, the regulation required to measure and enforce these kinds of banks is virtually nil in some states (Florida, for example).

        • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here, Mary. These are important issues to consider–and I think such things as our airshed and water resources should not be up for sale or trade at any price.
          With respect to your concern about the develop paying for ecosystem service destruction, evidently some municipal utilities have argued against progressive pricing (the less you use the less you pay per kilowatt or kilo-gallon) on the grounds that some folks will never feel the pinch and continue to use as much as they wish.

  6. The sadness that these tribes feel to mourn the loss of land is comparable to the sorrow we feel, when we mourn the death of a close relative. In their worldview, land is something irreplaceable which can never be exchanged for anything else, because it carries a particular and unique spirit. They consider themselves to be deeply related to this land similar to us who feel a close relationship to our sisters and brothers, our mother and father etc. As a matter of fact, there are things being priceless such as our health and our lives. When attempting to give to all these things a financial value, which can be converted into money, we are committing great harm to ourselves, to our identity and our body.

    • Great points all here, Nick! It is true that to those who value the land in this way, trading it away is like trading away a parent or child. And your last sentence about the harm we create by pricing everything sums up the main point I also mean to convey here.

  7. When you think about any of the relocation, the movements of the native peoples, or invasions, to me it was all about money. When the government wanted “reservations” it was not only to keep a tribe in one place but it was to access their fertile grounds. This is still happening today but not only to natives but to everyone. We have had issues with the environment since the beginning of time, however it has been in the last decade that anyone really started talking about it. If one is to look at the past, the last five years is the most anyone has every discussed the issues of the ice shelves, the rising temperatures, or the lack of water.
    I think that it is a knee jerk reaction to a problem that should have been worked on long before the Clinton, Bush administrations. However the words I think kept the rich from making their money and things were allowed to go on in the same old manner.
    I use the removal of R-12 refrigerant as an example. The US banned it some time ago because it was thought to have made the hole in the Ozone. But after a few years they decided that it really did not make a difference but we will start charging hundreds of dollars to those who want to use this still. It is still legal product in many countries, including Mexico. So one has to wonder if that it was actually that big of an issue, why did the world not follow suite?
    Today we have R-134A a less effective product that still have to be recovered in a manner that the other should have been. However DuPont makes both and is in the market to make money. One has to wonder how this was lobbied to the government to get rid of one and release a new product. Every thing we do is for the mighty dollar.
    Sorry to get on my soap box.
    I enjoy your publication.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeff. Obviously there is far too much in our society that is “all about money”. I do think that we cannot gauge the hazards of a chemical by which countries still sell/use it– if the precautionary principle were in play, it would be the most careful country that would lead the way everywhere.

  8. This a great article about how the capitalist society somehow feels everything can be bought and sold, and everything whether living or not is just a product that has only money value. It seems like it keeps getting worse.
    I am a firm believer that no one person should be allowed to own land. The earth belongs to everybody and all creatures. Too many times I see people feel they can do whatever they like, and in the process so much damage is done.
    I think as soon as something has a money value attached to it, it looses a piece of what makes it unique and takes part of the soul anyway. It actually become less valuable, like a factory that just produces the same product over and over. This is not how we were suppose to live.
    The government did a terrible thing to the Native Americans. They basically devalued them as a people, and put a price on their land, which should have never been done, how sad. I believe most of our problems today are a result of this kind of thinking. Greed has really taken over, and we need to get away from this if we ever want to get down to the roots of our problems as a society.
    I really thought this was a great article, nice job.

    Thank you,


    • Hi Troy, thanks for your comment. Nobel Laureate Chinua Achebe, who wrote about the tragedies caused to traditional Igbo societies (Nigeria) as a result of British colonialism was once asked in an interview whether he thought that traditional societies were perfect. He replied that no human society was perfect– some were just better than others in fighting the human instincts of self-destruction. Greed is certainly one of these–and modern industrial society has done an unfortunate job in fostering rather than inhibiting the human potential for greed.
      Thoughtful response.

  9. This article reminded me of the economics class I just finished about the willingness to pay. Our whole economy is based on demand and willingness to pay. Willingness to pay or WTP reminds people of what we will pay for a certain product or service. But, my question is, what are we willing to have the 7th generation to pay? I wonder if I don’t even realize what I’ve signed myself and my family to pay. In economics, those are externalities; not measured well.

    It really hit home about not creating something we cannot contain. Wow. I’ll remember that statement.

    I also visited the site about the trash vortex. I can’t believe it was only recently found. But, it is impressive that Mr. Moore sold his empire to become more environmentally minded. In my way of thinking, there needs to be a large understanding of environmental issues rather than judgement and misunderstandings. But, these issues cannot be ignored. I’m also reminded of what plastic has done for me. It likely has been an aid to keep me from infection, aid in surgery and provided clean tubes for my daughter when she laid in bed on a respirator. I would not have wanted glass down her throat. But those materials are disposable; that is only used once. But disposable is a tricky word.

    I disagree with the idea that PNW Indigenous peoples did not have an idea of ownership of land. I think it was not the same idea as we have today by any stretch–and there is plenty of evidence to show this. But my own people (Siletz, Takelma) and other bands were used to visiting certain areas to gather and fish. And, it was a gift from the Creator. And they did not own it, but they did consume from certain traditional areas. It is a hard concept I’m trying to talk about and not doing it well.

    This was an enlightening read and has sort of brought all of the classes and disciplines together for me.

    Is it okay to share this site outside of OSU?


    • Hi Tina, thank you for the thoughtful comment. A profound sense of belonging to the land (which entails use of it and care for it) is very different from setting a price on it: this is an important distinction that, as you imply, should be made clear here. Indeed, these treaty negotiation examples show how deeply particular peoples felt connected to very particular places. You might also be interested in looking at this piece which contrasts the indigenous sense of belonging to the land with the idea that the land belonged to human individuals to do with as they will.
      I would also be interested to know what you think of some of the other ideas expressed under the category of “Pacific Northwest” on this site.
      Please feel free to share this site– a good many other people than OSU folks already visit and use it.
      As one added point, perhaps you know that Grandma Aggie is coming to Eugene to do a second annual water blessing ceremony for the Willamette River on April 26. I will post a notice here and on your discussion board when we get closer to this event.

  10. There are two important things in this article that I feel I am a part of. Of course, the entire article affects me, and it is disturbing to think about the crimes committed against me, all consumers, and native people in the past, all because of greed and selfishness. However, two parts of this essay hit home more.

    The first is reading about how we took land from Indians; how we ignored their requests and we refused to understand the value of it as we took it away. This side of the story, the side of the oppressed group, was one I never heard until I was in college. A minority’s story is not a popular one to tell in our society, and we would never teach the more privileged demographic their own wrongdoings. The reason this part of the essay stood out was because it discussed the Walla Walla treaty. I was raised, until middle school, in Walla Walla, and we often went to the mission there, where there is a cemetery and a museum about the negotiations, and they do nothing to discuss the ways that we hurt the native people. All of the information is discussed in such a way to be peaceful and happy. This history, which I was first taught, is much different than the history I have been learning in the past few years, one that is not so fair.

    The second thing that applies to me is the discussion of using plastics and artificial materials to create goods. As I am working towards a career in fashion, I am very aware of the reasons companies use artificial materials, and also the harmful effects they have on both the earth and ourselves. Luckily, as consumers are becoming more aware of these, there is a bigger demand for natural and organic sources. Still, the same companies that substituted artificial products for natural ones are using the “green” movement as a marketing tool, and their hearts are not truly in the subject. This is a problem that is related to greed, and making the greatest amount of money. Like other issues in this article, it comes down to the selfishness of people, and the lack of ability to care about the world around them.

    • Hi Erin, thank you for your comment. I appreciate your important focus on balance and justice in history. All the voices of those lower on the social scale are too often neglected in the mainstream telling of US history: as two descendants of a pioneer family I interviewed put it, “The winners write history. The rest of us just live it.” We have to wonder what kind of view of history we get when we ignore those who actually live it.
      On your second note, changing awareness in such arenas makes me hopeful. I’m glad you will be able to offer this perspective in your career. You are right on in terms of the negative power of greed, I think. See my comment response to Troy Jonas on this point.

  11. Recapturing the story of the traditional people’s of the Pacific Northwest conjures up their personal story in ways I had not considered.

    The loss that these people endured at the cost of advancing society is a number that could not be given a “high enough” price tag in my opinion. It is easier for someone like me to see the treatment of the traditional people as “wrong” and wonder if “in the moment” I would have had the wisdom to understand the violations being made. The suffering that the traditional people experienced is one that is difficult to comprehend by a society that is somewhat free to make choices including where to live, work, go to school, establish community etc. Taking a moment to “try” to comprehend the loss, sadness, and disconnection to be forced away from my very existence leaves me in awe.

    This post reveals deep gaps in communication where break down occurs including at the treaty proceedings at Cosmopolis. It’s a great example of people’s right to chose. In this case to chose to care or not care. It is clear that “Steven’s” did not care to listen or understand the needs of the people. His agenda (or agendas) clouded his regard for others. In modern culture “misses” in communication happen all the time. I notice communication like this quite often. It seems humans are in such a hurry to be right, put a price on something, label someone, make a profit and benefit that often the true message, beauty, and meaning is lost. Creating “win-wins” seem to take more time, effort, patience and for some may be “too time consuming” or “not profitable”. The “powers that be” seem to place the price tag on the bottom line: themselves, their own profits, and agenda.

    Our society has such trouble caring about real issues including the lives of others. I tend to chose the optimistic view quite often and in this case I hope that others work to bridge the gap in communication and actually “stand in” on behalf of others eliminating the the divide of hate, ignorance, greed, and selfishness. Had the “majority” chose this option in greater number what could have been different for the traditional people of the Pacific Northwest.

    When looking at the modern industrial system the attempts to value or devalue almost “anything” based on the “bottom line”, sums up the same general attitude that has been prevailing for centuries. When we begin to “wake up” and realize that individuality, speaking up for the rights of others, counteracting big-business agenda with humanitarian interests and “letting go” of control maybe we will see a turn around in America and the world. People, nature, individual culture, relationships and health may become “valuable” even if there is not a price-tag attached. Maybe we will see that the time to communicate “well” and effort to step in and act to bring health and growth will be work the rewards in the end.

    • Hi Kaaren, thanks for sharing some very thoughtful points in your comment. The issue of communication and creating win-win conditions that encourage us to listen to one another is an important one. It does seem to me that if there were more knowledge in the mainstream about the choices (great point on this score) we were making, we might make some different ones. Wonderful vision for revaluing the things that count at the end of your comment.

  12. I am glad to hear Auntie Ag is still traveling. last I knew she was still the chairperson for the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers of the world. Outside of Christmas cards, I’ve not had contact with her since the Siletz Pow-Wow a few years back. She was disappointed my Mother had cut her hair. It was good to see her. And if any river needs a blessing, its the Willamette.

    I’ve learned a fair deal about treaties and the treatment of the people by the government in the Pacific Northwest. Much of that information I learned through my Dad, a historian, Multicultural Perspectives and Ecosystem Science of the PNW Indian classes here at OSU. Of course, your posting here only adds to that knowledge. I regress usually to comment on such matters as it makes me angry to think about. And, so far, its not an intelligent anger for lack of a better word. I’m aware to what degree I can be angry about the outright atrocities done to these people. My Grandmother, when she was sick (as I am told) was left to die and the doctor said that she was just an old Indian woman anyway. And the judgment people hold for these people still exist. I’ve been yelled at and scolded more than once. And, save for my education from my Dad and OSU, I’ve been raised white.

    But I think we need to move past all of that without forgetting it. It is only by learning from past mistakes on all sides that we can begin to look at the rivers, salmon, trees, elk and each other with understanding and respect while allowing all Jews, Germans, Japanese; all people to hold fast to their cultures and values. But I will try not to sign any agreement with people I do not trust.

    • Hi Tina, thanks for offering more information here. Grandma Aggie is indeed still chair of the Thirteen Grandmothers and the Willamette (if you have seen the map that the Corvallis Environmental Center just came out with, detailing point source pollution along its course) is certainly in need of being cared for. Perhaps you also know that the Siletz are hosting all thirteen of the grandmothers at the coming Pow Wow. It should be quite the time.
      I am sorry that you and members of your family endured such pointless cruelty. Intelligent anger is an important thing to develop, I think, since it allows one to draw the line about things to stop. Blame is something else: responsibility is instead, I think, the positive key to change. Knowing our whole history can be empowering– for there were many people involved and not all of them on either side made good or bad decisions. Once we understand this complexity, we can refine our own choices.
      Congratulations on your personal career and dedication to the environment.

  13. It is so sad to hear how the Native Americans were mistreated. The land of their ancestors were of more importance than any of the things that the government wanted to give them. Its what they considered to be sacred, and personally I do not see how people could not understand that. Its the land that all their sacred stories had taken place on and they were forced to give it up, and even happens to this day because tourists give more money than Native americans. The whole BPA thing is so scary. I had read on my daughters bottles that they were BPA free, but honestly had no idea what that meant. How can we as consumers or even mothers let manufacturers get away with this kind of stuff. We cannot put a price on our childrens health, and it’s sick that those kinds of chemicals are being used just to save a couple bucks. Also we have realized that plastics are not biodegradable for quite some time, so why is it that we cannot collectively use another product. People are more concerned with their cars having GPS than preserving our Earth for future generations. We definatly need to get our priorities in order.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelli. The link to the site in this article gives indicates the safest products in which to store your child’s milk. When money trumps compassion, caring for our children, and basic human justice, both society and the environment suffer, as you indicate. I am heartened by all the replies to this essay that show how people such as yourself are thinking critically about these issues. All of us working to put our values into effect can make a difference so you don’t have to be afraid of your baby’s milk.

  14. It is so incredible how the majority of our existence is surrounded by things that have been created to take the place of something else. Genetically engineered foods, inorganic man-made fabrics, and various unnatural materials have been developed recently in history. As the article states, there were so many people on this earth living their lives according to what the needed and took everything from nature. Now, there are so many with more than plenty, and they receive things from a man-made process. The question is now: how can we end this process of devaluing the things that nature has to offer. We certainly have put a dollar amount to almost everything in this world. It is not surprising that native peoples fought back when outsiders were attempting to pay them off for their land.
    The earth is something that is to be held sacred. It is what makes life possible and we cannot take it for granted. If we do neglect it, we shall soon see our downfall. Many might say that humanity is already gaining a view of its self-induced death. We have been careless with our natural resources, caught under the impression that we are immune to bad consequences. This has been shown to not be the case. We need to stop thinking of our world as something to be bought or a tool to gain a profit and begin to understand nature as a part of us that needs to be cared for and nourished.

    • Hello Allie. thanks for your response. Great points. I like how well you summed up the main point of this essay in your first paragraph here and added your own take on it. And your last paragraph gives us all something to aim for in terms of change. Think how different a world we might have if we all thought of it as something to be careful for rather than the means to turning a profit.

  15. You would think after the Chehalis, the Cowlitz, and the Chinook refused to sign Stevens treaty at Cosmopolis, he would have re-examined his worldview and understood that taking their land was taking away their way of life. He either understood their beliefs and chose to proceed due to greed or just was too closed minded to consider any other view outside his own as intelligent. In either case, this shows just how shallow and dark the root of our society can be. Greed drives people to do unspeakable things, and I believe forcing others out of their way of life, whether compensated or not, falls into this category. The indigenous understood that “three will never be the square root of six, no matter how many people are willing to pay to make it different.” At what point in time did our society decide that we could put a price on everything, whether the owner liked it or not?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jason. In fact, you have a point in analyzing Stevens’ approach. His habit at treaty proceedings was to simply read out the treaty he had brought with him and then have his advisers go among the Indians and tell them what they had to sign. Not exactly a negotiation stance or one that leads to any dialogue or understanding. There is some debate among historians whether Stevens was merely this stupid or whether his approach was a calculated and arrogant one– the debate came after this approach led to Indian uprising both east and west of the Cascades. You might be interested to know that this governor also rounded up some citizens of Puget Sound and put them under arrest for sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Indians–and when the supreme court of Washington protested, he declared marshal law so that he could arrest the members of the court as well!
      I think it is important to contemplate what parts of the Western worldview he was expressing in this– since he had enough support to get himself elected to the Washington state senate shortly after the marshal law fiasco.

  16. The traditional people of the Pacific North West that were in the article were not allowing anyone to buy their land from them. The land that they were on to the people was priceless, it was something that was unable to be bought or sold at any price. The land that these people live on was more than just a piece of land, it was there home. Ancestors for generations have lived there. They have gone through hard times and have buried their families and kin for centuries. Hard fought battles have gone on their land. So to these locals it meant way much more than a piece of land or money, it was their history. They were apart of that land; how can you ask someone to sell apart of themselves. This is what the locals were trying to say at the treaty proceedings and to the Washington territorial Governor Isaac Stevens. As said they “could not make him understand that his plan to remove them from their homeland was unacceptable, since nothing could replace it. It’s as someone coming up to you and asking you to sell your son or daughter. They are priceless, no matter what the offer.

  17. This article reminded me of how baffled I often am when wondering how so many people are dependent on the health care system because they trade healthy living for a way of life that is disposable, not to mention cheaper, with potentially dangerous side effects to themselves and to their environment. It seems that a lot of people don’t see the relationship between buying plastics or chemical products and the health of their environment (and in turn themselves, see a cycle anyone?). I moved to Portland from Montana and was shocked when the water report came out a couple of years ago saying that traces of drugs such as aspirin and antibiotics were in the water, especially when all of my friends seemed to think that it was normal. By accepting a slow decay of our natural environment we are trading our true quality of life for what we think is a better quality of life and that is going to catch up with us very soon.

    • Thoughtful comment, Erin. Obviously, we need to continue to think of these things critically (and assess how we can do better), rather than simply accept such environmental degradation. I think you have an important point when you indicate that we need to assess what really brings us improved quality of life.

  18. …”the modern industrial system prices everything, including human life…” In my opinion, this sentence say everything. The incident that comes to my mind when I read this was the Chenoble disaster. I was a high school student living in Germany in 1986. The effects of this incident are indefinite. At the time, we were worried about the radiation fallout and how it would affect the region for years to come. And I believe that it will not take too many disasters such as Chenoble to completely annihilate the human race in the pursuit of technological advancement. The “price” is truelly too high and I do think that our only hope is too change the way we think about what is priceless in this world.

    • I absolutely concur, Tina. I think understanding how precious are the gifts that life has given us will also change our quality of life. It certainly takes some unwarranted human pride to think it is fine to introduce and use technologies that might change the course of life forever–and that we cannot call back or contain.

  19. “This business of thinking we can exchange everything for something else needs to be re-evaluated. The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high– it is devalued. For then it can be bought. This reflects an essential aspect of the indigenous worldviews: the sense of the unique value of individual persons, other natural life, and particular lands such that none of these can be replaced by or exchanged for any another. [1]”

    How much is a life worth? Can a life truly be purchased or exchanged for something else? It is just amazing how we, as a people, sometimes make choices totally ignoring the long-term consequence. By robbing the indigenous people of what was their’s to begin with, they will never recover. Sure, they are a tough people of survival; but, the heart of territory is now gone forever. To destroy a culture of people such as this is unacceptable in any time in history, today, and tomorrow.


  20. You raise a very important point in this essay, and I agree: A policy of trading one thing for another has serious consequences. You show some great examples of how “replacements’ have turned freakish; for instance, plastics actually replacing cells in our bodies due to overexposure to leaching. I think that another example, which relates to that “floating island” you referenced, is the manufacturing of plastic itself. The space that was saved by using up the materials to make the plastic has now been replaced with a worthless product that no one will ever re-use unless we fish out that island in the sea and try to get it back to it’s natural form, or try to reuse it. Was the convenience of the product really worth the end result? Well, perhaps the companies who pay to make these things, (the ones who think there’s a money value to everything) should pay for the destruction they’ve caused? And maybe the government should be held accountable for letting it happen.
    I have a small amount of faith that in the future the government will have to issue an apology to the world for the pollution and the other atrocities that they’ve allowed, similar to the apologies that have been issued for essentially stealing land from the native americans.

    • Thanks for your response, Josh. Thoughtful points on the ways in which discarded plastic takes up space.
      I like the way you stretched the connection in this essay at the end of your comment. After all, as our representative, our government ought to be working on finding a way to make it good. Or at least preventing more harm– as in the case of the European Union’s use of the precautionary principle in dealing with man-made chemicals.

  21. Ownership is an interesting concept, and I think we all have something to learn from the PNW Native American tribes mentioned in this article. Too often we get caught up with our material possessions and forget about the intangible things that make life such a rich experience. While we might “own” the land on which our dwelling sits, how often do we step outside and take in the surroundings. We don’t take the time to list to the wind blow, or watch the sun set, or observe the life that thrives in nature. Unfortunately these activities have been replaced by primetime television, video games, and the so-called “pursuit of happiness.”

    In many ways I feel that our government – from the local to federal level – reinforce this notion. It was pretty clear that the government representativies featured in this blog entry missed the idea that the Native Americans were trying to convey. Whether you agree or disagree with their position, I think it would be worthwhile for everyone to consider the merits of their worldview and maybe even reconnect with their surroundings (even if just for one day).

    • Hi Allison, thanks for your thoughtful response. Listening to those who had such success with the land is an appropriate attitude. Of course, the federal government missed this too when they set into teaching native peoples to plow the land in their “farm or else” (or else starve) on the reservations whether or not they were on land that could actually be effectively farmed.

  22. For me, “The Dangers of Pricing the Priceless” immediately brings to mind one priceless commodity, “Blue Gold,” water. This may be off topic, but I feel compelled to bring this to the discussion. I understand the worldview that each thing has its own intrinsic value, and one thing can not be exchanged equally for another. But at the same time, we live in a world where values are constantly assigned as we purchase our food, fill our cars with gasoline, and pay our water bills. I agree that setting prices devalues commodities, especially when these prices are subsidized, as is often the case with the price of water. In an ideal world where everyone embraced the interdependent worldview, seeing value in all things, people would use (drinking) water responsibly and water consumption would be regulated by morality. However, this is not the case. We take long showers, wash our cars, water our lawns, and build fountains in the desert. Until each person is compelled to shift his or her worldview, we live in a society based on capitalism and market economies. In the meantime, how do we compel people to use such a precious resource responsibly without raising the sticker price? At the same time, raising the price of water is also seen as discrimination against the poor. As much as I wish life were functioning in concert with the natural world, currently it is not. In this day and age, how do we shift each person’s worldview from monetary values to intrinsic values? And what do we do in the meantime?

    • Hello Christine, “pricing” of something as necessary to life as water is not off topic for a comment. Risk-benefit analysis often yields a license to pollute our waters, since the ledger books may state that a fine for toxic release is less expensive than to release pollutants and pay the fine. I think we need another way of valuing just how precious water is to us. One way is changing our worldview to one of reverence for water as expressed by Agnes Baker Pilgrim’s blessing of the Willamette River (see There is much public education to be done on this point. Another point is making a pricing scale (when it must be made) that is fair to the poor AND to conservation. In such a scale you would pay less per kilogallon of water as you use less. Many utilities have rates that instead encourage overuse of water as a “bargain” in two ways. One is a “base fee” for service which is paid by all as a minimum service charge regardless of usage, and the other is the price structure that makes water seem a “bargain” in that those who use the most (large water-dependent industries– who may also create the most public costs for cleaning stormwater because of what they discharge) should be charged a progressively higher rate per kilogallon of usage. I also think that industries should not be allowed to sell and trade pollution credits for discharge that allow a river to get up to a certain level of pollution before regulations kick in.
      Other ways to save water are essential. Humans have been drawing down the water table in the Southwest US since the 1950s–which makes this an important concern in your area. Prohibitions on washing cars or watering lawns in total– or on certain days, was done during a recent drought in California. Longer term care for water resources include the support for native landscaping rather than lawns (already done in some southwestern cities). I think we need to do much more. Water is essential to life and we cannot continue to squander it anywhere. Even in the Northwest, droughts in recent decades have caused curtailment of home water usage during certain times.
      I also do not think we should allow our water to be bottled and sold on the open market– as in the case of water in the river sacred to the Wintu in Northern California. You might be aware that water rights are being bought up by multinational corporations all over the world. And whereas we can survive without oil, we can’t live without water. I can’t think of a better example of something we need to protect because it is beyond price.

  23. This plastic soup mentioned in the pacific is a terrifying. Are there satellite images available that show it or is it somewhat under the surface? The article link described it as a soup, does this mean the plastic is breaking down into the water to create a different solution, or does it just mean that things are floating around in separate pieces somewhat disbursed?
    This concept of pricing the priceless reminds me of Dana Point. I am from Southern California and love surfing, and apparently Dana Point used to have a break called Killer Dana which was like the pipeline of the west coast. (pipeline is a famous break on the North Shore of Oahu). However in the 1950’s or 1960’s some people decided they had enough money and it was worth it to throw in a jetty and harbor there and the break is now gone forever. Sure the dana point harbor has brought a great deal of economic benefit to the area, but for someone who is so in love with the waves, money doesn’t matter when compared to the fact that I will never get to see killer dana break, or get a 5 minute ride on what was the perfect point break. I know it may sound like no comparison, but this is the closest I can come to fathoming how the Native Americans must have felt when asked to leave their homeland for a price. If I had access to Killer Dana and a tent, I don’t care how big the hat full of gold is, I wouldn’t be moving.

    • Hi Mark, I have head this being described as an “island” that is growing as more plastic gets blown from landfills around the world and becomes attached here. I’m afraid that is my limit of info about it, though I do know that plastic in the ocean breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that never total disappear but are instead inadvertently ingested by marine life. Terrifying seems like a good word to describe it.
      Thanks for sharing the passing history of “killer Dana”.

  24. In reading, “On the Dangers of Pricing the Priceless,” it really made me sick to think about how our bodies are full of chemicals from plastics and other things. I also saw again how Europe is ahead in the matter of putting some brakes on the rush of creating harmful products. And once again, it is hard to imagine what is missing in the minds and hearts of the people like Governor Stevens. It is similar to the Natzis forcing Jews from their homes. It is passive violence with the most arrogant mindset a human can have. How would he have felt if the shoe was on the other foot?

    • Thank you for your compassionate and thoughtful response, Lesley. We are just going to have to work to get ourselves up to par with the EU and other nations like Canada. I wrote a piece for the Eugene Register Guard (similar to this essay) to encourage local citizens to begin this job of caring for the environment in curbing pesticide use. As for Stevens, he was a product of his time– a lesson for each of us to stand on moral ground despite the social and historical context around us.

  25. I was really shocked to hear our bodies bear a certain percentage of plastic and that of the mass amounts of filth that have built up in our oceans. I dont understand how people can just overlook things like this just because of the price tag they put on it. When reading about the Chehalis people and their story, It really reminds me of the phrase “You cant buy love”. The moral is that you cant put a price on everything. For the Chehalis people, they had a love for the land which in no way could be compensated for. I cant even begin to imagine the heart ache and pain the Native people felt when they were forced from their lands. The closest comparison I could think of is having to move away from everything I once knew in California, leaving the places I knew were safe and the people I called friends.

    • Hi Kevin, there are certainly things we cannot buy– like health. It does not seem to me that any profit is worth having this body burden of chemicals.
      We move so often in this culture–and often lose something in the process, as you did when you left your home in California.

  26. I can’t believe Isaac Stevens acted this way towards the Indians. How arrogant! I wonder if the Indians felt helpless at all. Here is just another shining example of the American attitude. “I’m better than you because I’m American.” Its sad that we know it all too well today because it was taught to us by example from America’s founders.

    • The patronizing attitude of Stevens and his reference to the “father in Washington” was also useful–he felt- in getting Indians land. However, this put-down form of communication was certainly not lost on the Indians.

  27. It is a great travesty what happened to the indigenous population in our earlier expansion years.The precautionary principle is one I wholly embrace. But I believe it should be considered in more areas than just human produced chemicals as mentioned relating the the European Union. We didn’t know what would happen with plastics and the floating waste in the Pacific doldroms is stated in the linked article to be twice the size of the continental US. That’s a lot bigger than Texas. The price on that mess ranged from a few cents to a few hundred dollars, but it was multiplied millions of times, and each time it was discarded.

    • Excellent points about expanding the precautionary principle to the mess we are in because of plastics. David. I also think we ought to look into the burning of coal in new power plants (and the mercury as well as carbon it puts into the air) before we go building any more of these. The list goes on, as you indicate.

  28. Holy cow. I am speechless. Well, firstly I had no idea about this mass of trash in the ocean. I am shocked. I do not believe that everything can be replaced. If something is taking up space, and another thing comes into contact in the same space one of two things happen. Either thy combine or one wins over the other. I hate to think about the plastics and what they are doing to our bodies. I know I have tried to limit that in my life greatly. I even would go to the extent of belief that technology is hurting the natural balance of existence also. Yes it may be a tool, simply put, but there is a lot broader outlook to what technology and energy waves are doing to us. Remarkable post, I will definitely be researching the links that you had more. Especially REACH, it sounds very educational.

  29. When I read that “All human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic. We have no idea what part of our physiology this replaces.” a chill ran up my spine and I had to put this article down. This comes back to the NIMBY lie in which everything that we produce, use, and throw away eventually ends up in our own backyards and our bodies. This whole article made my already very low faith in humanity steep a little bit more. It is so sad that companies place values on human lives, although I had already figured that they did this by allowing such harmful toxins and chemicals to be produced, I didn’t know it was actually put into practice in public documents as in the Ford example. It has always been fairly obvious to me that large corporations put a value on a human life, especially those in poverty and other countries, but to see that it was actually used to determine whether or not to fix exploding! gas tanks is appalling. This all proves your point that “The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high–it is devalued. For then it can be bought.” Is this not a form of slavery? To put a price on a human life?!

    I have been aware of a Texas sized garbage island in the ocean but did not realize it was all plastic (is it 100% plastic? or just very close to 100%?). I can only imagine how terrible that is for the surrounding ocean wildlife, they must be ingesting bits of plastic daily, which can only come back to being ingested by us.

    This again is a perfect example to show that the Indigenous view that all life is sacred should be taken up by everyone. By placing a value on life we are taking away its real value, and are devaluing all of life, this is leading directly to the an ugly alteration of the life on this planet, and unfortunately could lead to the end of life on this planet, at least the end of human life…

    • I didn’t mean to depress you, Paul. I hoped to motivate us all to think differently about our economic system–and what we want to set other kinds of values on than monetary. I think you are right about human life being slavery whenever it is priced.
      I understand the floating ocean island is all plastic. And I think you have a point about NIMBY here. Another plastic bottle of water (or whatever) is convenient and that floating island is out of sight, out of mind.
      Thanks for your comment, Paul.

  30. Just as you stated, “Stevens still didn’t get it.” Most people still don’t get it.

    It angers me that certain people (developers, governments, corporations, and individuals) think they can put an actual price (value) on the land. I personally think it is priceless, but this issue is real and finding “TRUE VALUE” (not the hardware store) needs to be done in a way that takes into account the “TRUE COST” of environmental degradation. For instance, destroying several hundred acres of rain forest in South America (pick your spot) to build a factory needs to take into account not only the value of trees and relationship to the rivers, but also take into account…say for instance, the habitat and species of bees or birds, among other non-human animals that are highly valuable for pollinating adjacent crop lands…for without their valuable pollination, the crops won’t grow or reproduce. This could add billions if not trillions to the value. This doesn’t even take into account the livelyhood and cultural spirituality of the indiginous people that work the land and rely on it for survival and vice versa. I believe this is called ECO-ECONOMY.

    On the flip side, some economists argue that the willingness to pay (the price consumers are willing to pay for the the natural resource), by applying non-use value (the price consumers place on the natural resource, but have no intention of ever using or visiting it) and direct use value (the price consumers have paid or will pay to use or visit the natural resource), to PREVENT environmental degradation is sufficient. However, these values are not a “TRUE COST” valuation of the environmental degradation, because the direct use value ONLY takes into account the several hundred acres (in this example) and not the value of anything else. As for the non-use value, well this is done by consumer surveys taken from a segment of certain populations and let’s face it…what people say they would pay and what they can actually afford are in most cases completely different.

    I would go on to argue that the prices of oil, electricity do not reflect the true cost of environmental degradation either. After all the price paid by consumers only accounts for price markup, transporting the fossil fuels, plant maintenance, and the actual cultivation of the fossil fuel…but not the destruction done to the mountain, rivers, forests, soils, and wildlife habitat to name a few. If the price reflected the actual cost to the environment it would be much more expensive and people would be much more willing to use what is now seen as the more expensive re-usable resources (e.g., solar power, wind power, etc.). Sure, some people say that too many jobs would be lost from the “cheaper” fossil fuel alternative, but in reality these people (with some additional training) could easily be transferred over to building, transporting, and maintaining windmills, and solar panels. It’s a matter of having the willingness to learn and adapt…after all nature has to so it can keep supplying us with the circle of life. Maybe it’s time to return the favor.

    • Obviously this is a topic about which you have done much personal thinking. Patrick. We need to do some thinking, since our economic rewards system and protection of the environment to sustain our lives are currently at odds. I like Hawken and Lovins idea of “natural capitalism” which notes we should less of what we have limited supplies of (natural resources) and more of what we have plenty of (like human labor). I don’t there is any doubt that we would employ large numbers of people in an eco-friendly economy–it is making the transition (in infrastructure) and changing what we are used to that will likely be bumpy. But in point of fact, I think much of our population is excited about doing work that would add to the well being of environment–as in a class of dislocated workers who had been loggers in a class I once taught. One hundred per cent of them (I took a little survey) would NOT have been logging old growth had they had a more ecological work with which they support their families –and in fact, it is local loggers who have started a number of sustainable logging enterprises throughout the Northwest.

  31. How many things are there that have no value, or should I say are beyond value? Are they even physical things? Do intangible things like dreams, ideals, love, happiness count? For me, these intangible things are what are beyond value, though I do have a few physical things on my list as well. My children, husband, family, friends. I wouldn’t break my back or neck for any amount of money-not only because of the physical discomfort, but how would I hike through the woods, go camping, run and play with my kids, etc. Something else that is priceless is polluting. No matter how well something is “cleaned up,” it will never go back to being the same. Traces of it will always linger. I find it even more revolting though that with plastics we are not attempting to clean anything up. Most of the negative effects of plastics are largely unvoiced to the majority of people. Perhaps if word got around, enough people would refuse to buy it? A natural substitute would need to be available though. Would we have a problem finding a natural substitute though? I recently watched a video from the California Indian Basketweavers Association. So many of their plants that they use to make baskets have been sprayed with pesticides (they later found). How do we make sure that anything we use is 100% natural? Or perhaps as the blog says about how people are not 100% natural, sadly, maybe our natural world will never be fully natural again.

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. I think that anything we make, even plastic, is “natural” in that it derives from the natural world. Whether or not it jives with millions of years in which all the elements of natural systems co-evolved in tune with one another is something else again. I have heard that some camas ceremonies in Oregon use camas from secret places where it is known that they are not sprayed. The problem with being out in the woods is the way the Forest Service manages forests with herbicides. Thus some tribes in Northern Califiornia supported roadless and wilderness areas to protect their cultural resources.
      And what does this have to do with pricing everything? The idea that we should spray since there is money to be made, even if it disrupts a priceless treasure of a cultural practice–not to mention, the health of the ecosystems that are being thusly “managed”.

  32. I would like to make a comment on the concept of mitigation, or in this context exchanging one piece of land for another as a compromise and an excuse to move a group of people from one place to another which happens to be in less demand by the dominant power. Most of the Native people of North American had spent many thousands of years in the same place and area, they knew most of the subtle nuances of their particular environment. They knew if the acorns were late in falling from the oak trees, the salmon were late in migrating upstream, and whether or not the caterpillars were more woolly than normal. I have read that any of these things could indicate a colder than normal winter can be expected if they occur in certain areas, while in other areas, they could have an entirely different interpretation and meaning. Anyone who thinks that a group of people could simply move from one area to another without loss of some part of their cultural continuity clearly has no understanding of what constitutes continuity, and is likely someone who already feels lost themselves.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. Great perception about the impetus to the US government’s removal plans. In fact, there was of course an ulterior motive for this, which was that the US wanted the best farmland for settlers. Good point about the subtle complexity of particular places: this is what makes it so strange when we allow a developer to build on a wetland if he engineers a wetland somewhere else–as if that wetland wasn’t there because that landscape was most suited to this habitat.
      Thoughtful points.

  33. I honestly don’t quite know what to do with this article. It was a travesty that our pioneering forerunners stole the land from the first nations. We live in a capitalist society in which we put a price on everything and this philosophy has been exported to the ends of the earth. It isn’t realistic that people will take a step back to the days of joint responsibility and sharing for the earth without ownership. I feel as though we’ve romanticized native culture as peace loving and without possession or ownership. The tribes of the pacific northwest clashed with each other over the right to harvest resources be it camas, salmon, or huckleberries. I don’t want to sound jaded, because I’m not. I’m hopeful that things can get better and that we can enter a new time of responsibility to and respect for the land. It is going to look different though than the days of the first nations and I think we need to look ahead and work out how best to do that.

    • Thanks for your comment, Peter.
      I wonder where you got your info about tribes of the Northwest clashing over resources. In traditional times honoring one another’s areas for this does not IMPLY clashing, in fact it often implied respect that forestalled clashing. Local peoples knew firsthand what such clashes could lead to in cultures in which every single person was important to survival–and from the evidence I have seen, tried to avoid them. Also, the “ownership” of fishing sites, for instance (see Boxberger’s work) was more what we would term guardianship–and extended kin networks as well as visitors from elsewhere had permission, but they had to seek permission (which was a way of protecting the site).
      This does not mean that these societies were perfect, but they had ways, as Chinua Achebe put it, to fight “the human instincts of self-destruction”–and thus they had cultural mechanisms to reduce violence which might of course occur anyway on occasion. How that might be dealt with is a much longer story than I can tell here.
      I think that we would hardly have survived as a species if we didn’t address problematic behaviors culturally if we confronted their potentials on a day to day basis.
      Now what is true is that introducing scarcity, putting several generations of peoples through boarding schools to break the links between generations, pressuring populations to express competition or starve among people with whom economic competition had been traditionally considered a serious social breach–by giving those on the “outside” of their communities access to resources others did not have, removal of peoples from their traditional homelands by force (there were at one point three forts surrounding the Western Oregon reservations to keep inmates there–who were starving without access to their traditional foodstuffs) from escaping to go home– all these things created and amplified things like fighting over resources (fishing rights) that have emerged in a few contemporary court cases. In one case where I testified, the tribe that had been given “authority” over others wanted to keep its right to assert that it owned resources over these tribes who never signed a treaty– and who controlled the resources traditionally. To add to the problem, members of representative tribal governments, structured to deal with western forms of government, sometimes violated their own traditions–and there might be considerable disagreement between these “governments” and others in the tribe. For the few such cases that do exist (and I must say the State of Washington has historically recruited neighboring tribes to weigh in on the government side against those who sue for their treaty rights, telling them that they will lose their rights if another tribes gets theirs), there are many, many cases in which tribes have joined forced–and many in which they cooperate in commissions in the present day (the Columbia Intertribal Fishing Commission, e.g.)
      In this context, it is a sign of the resilience of these people’s traditions that so many survived as communities that support one another with memory of any traditions at all.
      I say this NOT because I want to idealize anyone, but because it is important to set our understandings of what humans are capable of–and what Western industrial societies are responsible for healing– in context. Setting my own response in context, I have far too often heard people use the idea that native peoples were just as violent as us to excuse our own history of behavior toward them– and our responsibility for changing our culture (if everyone is violent and competitive, why should we try to be different, the logic goees).
      Given what I know of your thinking, I do not think you fall into either category– but I didn’t want this statement to go onlilne without setting the record straight just a bit for those who might be tempted to use such thinking as an excuse not to think deeply and critically.

      • Professor Holden
        Thank you for responding so fully to my post and for continuing to enlighten myself and others on these issues. I will continue to educate myself and learn what I can from the First Nations and both respect and desire to emulate their example of sustainable living and coexistence with the land. I look forward to reading through the rest of the posts and continuing the dialogue and journey together.

  34. What this piece really makes me wonder about is the “value” of scientific advancements. If after we integrate our miraculous scientific achievements (i.e. plastic, chlorine used to sanitize, cloud seeding techniques) into our lives, changing earth’s natural processes, why does it come as a surprise that they are negatively impacting? I think the real achievement would be to accompany Earth’s processes with humanity’s drive. By evaluating the effects of our innovations on the earth’s living cycle, the scientific process would be completed by carrying out is long lost step: the consequences.

    There is so much to learn from the native peoples who seem to live their lives fulfilled by the reciprocated love and devotion of the earth, and the earth’s returned gifts unto them.

    • I appreciate your phrasing of a “real achievement”, Jessica. We need to learn a good deal more about mutual reciprocation and adaptation–and matching our needs with earth’s cycles. Certainly, that is a challenge we would do well to take on.

  35. This article touched on many of the things I think are wrong with our world today. The statement by a group of elder’s that it was “. . . wrenchingly sad to a group of elders on the Muckleshoot Cultural Committee who mourned the sacred sites they had lost to highway development,” hit home for me. I understand this feeling of loss when places on the landscape are destroyed because of “progress.” The environment and the land always seems to be the loser because developers have no sense of the natural environment or a people’s history being more important than a highway or a shopping center. Our priorities are screwed up! I don’t believe that there is a way to make an “exchange” for special places. How can another piece of land ever be the same as another in a ecological way and as in a cultural way?

    I am glad you brought up all the plastic swirling around in the oceans because I don’t think that enough people know about it. It is shocking to me and a horrifying example of what are doing to the environment with plastics. The genetic alteration of foods is another thing that scares me. These are perfect examples why we need to start valuing our health and the environment above all other things. We need to start adhering to the precautionary principle so we don’t continue to cause changes to our environment that we don’t fully understand what the consequences will be. I don’t understand why people don’t care about the future effects of our actions. We are already see some of the results, so we can’t plead ignorance.

    • Thanks for your comment, Christina. It seems so obvious that the distinctive character of a place is never identical with another. But in our society, we have so many abstractions, we seem to think we can pull this off.
      I think you have a profound point that we can’t plead ignorance when we see the results. Time indeed to begin with the precautionary principle. I have said this elsewhere in this forum (if already to you, forgive me), but I am heartened by Lisa Jackson (new EPA administrator), who has called for the use of this principle in our federal chemical regulation. We’ll have to watch this and support it wherever we can.

  36. An excellent article. As a society, and especially a monetary based one, we do consume resources. We must allow for consumption so things have to have a cost and conversely a benefit to someone else. What I think is important is, as you mentioned before, some things should not have a value attached. As potential future managers that will answer to the public and industry, how do we suggest that something should not have a value?

    • As for chemicals, if a company could be held liable for ALL externalities of the generation and use of those chemicals then cancer would not be an acceptable alternative. In other words make the cost so high that another option is the only option. I got my uniform dry cleaned the other day by a company using unscented banana oils. This is a good example of an industry that is finding alternatives because of the associated costs (RCRA) of doing the trade. Another one would be the energy companies, with heavy investment in renewable energy and higher costs in conventional energy; they are looking for different business practices, not that we would see a revolution any time soon. I do feel that we teeter precariously now on the precept of the green revolution; I fear what may cause us to find it a necessity or that we will remain fixed in this phase until irrevocable damage is done.

      • It is interesting that you point this out, Patrick, since there have been a number of proposals lately that one way of stopping corporate damage to the environment is to make corporations pay for all the “externalities” they currently pass of to others. That is, instead of externalizing costs and internalizing benefits, they internalize costs as well as benefits.
        The example of cleaning alternatives is important,since standard commercial dry cleaning is highly toxic to workers as well as to everyone who lives nearby.
        As you indicate, it is not a given that we will do the right thing in terms of investing in green technology–but it is a necessary thing if we are to address our current damage to the systems that sustain all life.
        Thanks for your comment.

    • Thoughtful response, Patrick. I do not think that the idea that something does not have a price is the same as saying it does not have a value– but that it is priceless. I imagine you will be creative with the task you set out in terms of suggesting such things: one way might be to look for examples. Would we set a price, for instance, on a child or parent in a cost-benefit analysis?

  37. What are our politicians thinking? Am I the only one who remembers the YEARS it took for drugs and chemicals to get onto the market (at least I think that’s how it was)? FDA looked at many (but not all) possible issues, now they are just sending the stuff out with little research. Then the test high amounts but what about small amounts? I just don’t understand. These people are supposed to be smart- did they loose their common sense? I’m not a scientist but geez!

    How can we put a price on things? When we try to hold something tighter, we just end up either killing it or pushing it away. How can we price sun sets or rain drops? I’m sure someone will try- but in doing so we loose the true value. Who doesn’t (or didn’t) love to just play in the rain as a kid? Remember the joy and freedom? When was the last time you raised your face to the rain and said thanks and just enjoyed the rain? That’s priceless! Rain is no longer “pure” but the pure enjoyment still can be. Along with that enjoyment comes the knowledge that we are responsible for these priceless moments.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christy. I truly agree that we need to slow down– the precautionary principle would do it for an essential starter. I also agree that when we hold something tightly in terms of controlling it we crush it. Very thoughtful comment!

  38. This entry reminds me of an ongoing feud in my family, which I feel is an example of two contrasting worldviews. The family farm on which my mother and her eleven siblings grew up and has been in the family for over two hundred years is unfortunately the source of much disagreement. Many of the young and “progressive” older family members feel that it should be sold to the highest bidder and the profits divided, another group in the family (myself included) believe that no amount of money can give this land the “value” it has. Aside from the memories and stories it is a connection we have to our past, present and a future which is unknown to us.

    It is hard to stand up against the change that has already invaded the community around the farm, where traditional family farms have been sold and converted into shrimp farms (in the mountains), poultry farms and other single produce/product farms. It is the belief and mistake that many developing countries make, in that following the “western” path of progress is the “right thing” to do, in the process abandoning their indigenous/native ways of living and thinking.

    • I am sorry that your family is being torn like this, Yensi. It certainly illustrates the contrast in these two worldviews in the modern age. Money is here, gone and spent–a representation. Land is something to live from– to sustain us in body body and spirit, as you point out. Good luck in your struggle. Yours is not the only case I am aware of like this one. Assuming the path of development without thought is not the right thing to do (though it may be an excuse to make a little cash): it is the thing to do for those who are not thinking for themselves.

  39. It is discouraging that the idea of “profit” has influenced so much of our lives and the way we choose to consume. It was not until recently, that I have begun to look past what would be more profitable for myself, to what would be more profitable for everyone. This idea of profit inhibits many of us from making beneficial ecological decisions because we are consistently taught that the better bargain is always better. Much like the choice of purchasing organic over for commercial, a simple decision, but a decision that has engulfed our grocery shopping experience. While commercial produce and products definitely have the best bang for your buck, the environmental consequence of those decisions speaks otherwise. Choosing organic options not only benefit our own bodies, it benefits our society as a whole; leaving organic options ones that are priceless. It is just that in this age of modern consumerism, cost effective outcomes far outweigh those that are seen as ecological.

    • It is indeed discouraging to see what being led by the nose toward “profit” brings us. And of course, this “profit” isn’t even defined. What would we really count as profit if it took into consideration the quality of life and those things that truly satisfied us and caused us to stretch and challenge ourselves? And organic produce is getting cheaper– especially if you count the comparative nutrition involved AND compare it to heavily processed “fast foods”. Much cheaper to get your own healthy ingredients and work from scratch. And that is not even taking into account the environment and ethical production. There ARE ways to make your own convenience food from scratch.

  40. I read Yensi’s post, I had a similar experience. My wife’s family has a square mile of land near Silver Lake, Oregon. When her grandfather passed away, the two older siblings of my mother in law wanted to sell the farm because they thought it would be profitable. The 5 younger siblings did not want to lose that connection with their parents, the land had been in the family for about 100 years. The older siblings eventually sued the 5 others for the equal value that their portion of the land would bring if it were sold. Needless to say, they received their portion, but lost a lot in that they no longer are welcome to the land. We had a 100 year celebration last summer and they did not come. We planted signs with my wife’s grandparents names on them, and did a lot of remembering those that came before, but they were not there to join in the rememberance and celebration of those that came before. I don’t know exactly how much they received, but I can say for sure that it as not nearly enough to pay for the loss of the connection with the land and with the family.

    • This is a great story about holding to family and land together– though with a sad point about those who let it go, Matt. Perhaps some day they will be part of your family again. For now, congratulations on your 100 year celebration for the land your clan obviously cares for. It is tragic but telling when disagreements over caring for the land split families.

  41. This article is another testiment to the incredible bond that indigenous people have with the land. They are not concerned with monetary gain for exchange or any other materialistic item. The land is a part of them as they are a part of the land, simply trading or deserting it is to violate the sacred meaning that they have given.

    It doesn’t suprise me in any way that they did not wish to relocate, my great great grandparents built a cabin on a piece of property that still today has no electricity to it, my father worked very hard to keep it in the family. There is no amount of money that anyone could pay me or my family to sell our homestead, it has history and a part of my family buried in every part of it, nothing is worth trading that for.

  42. If only more people would view their land as the older Native Americans our forests and prairies would be much better off. The native americans did not care about how much money they were goiig to be given or if they were moving somewhere else because that did not matter to them. They wanted to stay on the land they had grown up on and their friends and family had grown up on. I couldn’t even imagine if the government came to my cabin and offered us a bunch of money and threatened to kick us off our land. Memories are what make things important to us and without memories people have no idea what the land we own or live on means to us.

  43. Stevens’ mindset was typical of the time. After all, this wasn’t that many years after the Trail of Tears. Although Thomas Jefferson had extolled the virtues of Indians, thinking them brave, noble of mind and fair of form, and the Cherokee had obligingly accepted most of the White Man’s ways (farming, living in houses, even owning plantations and black slaves), less-affluent white folks wanted their land. The official view changed from Jefferson’s to that of Andrew Jackson, who came out and said that Indians were savages, and as such needed to move in favor of those more civilized. The Cherokee response: a civilized one! They sued in court, ‘The Cherokee Nation vs. The State of Georgia’.
    That’s how it is in war; dehumanize the enemy. Handy pejorative terms (‘savage’, ‘heathen’, etc.) mean that you’re not stripping away a culture; you’re civilizing the land!
    It would have been stunning if Stevens had thought otherwise.

  44. It brings me so much grief to think of the injustice inflicted on native people by our ancestors. What’s really tragic, is that you can’t blame them individually. In conducting their negotiations they were only acting within their worldview, for in the ignorance of the time, it was simply impossible to grasp the priceless nature of the sacred history the natives held with the land.

    In a recent economics class I took, I learned that a basic rule and assumption is that all people will act rationally–which is defined as, ‘An individual or organization should do something if, and only if, the benefits outweigh the costs.’ And this usually refers to money, to hard cold cash. The costs of lives, time, connectivity, love, and the environment (all these factors that don’t have an exact quantitative monetary value) are rarely considered or taken fully into account, and if they are, they are termed ‘externalities.’ How poorly we fail to grasp the entire grand scope of meaning and value.

    • I think you have an important point about valuing, Natalie. In order to people to act rationally according to these criteria, they need to know how to price things accurately–and I’m not at all sure we have got that one right. We haven’t accounted for the true environmental costs of must activity that looks like a benefit to a few. And the most important benefits like the lives we share and those that sustain us are not taken into account. Thanks for your comment!

  45. It is interesting how much can be bought and sold. From gadgets to land to rights, all the way down to our time and energy, and basically our life. Is there really a price that can be put on the time spent with ones baby, with ones family? According to the average family, yes, there is. When I worked at a pre-school an upset child asked his Mom why she had to go to work, and she told him she needs to go to work so that he could have all those nice things he had at home. It seemed like such a misplacement of values, money to buy things over time with ones child.

    This article also makes me think of what happens to many poor urban areas when investors come and buy up the buildings in order to make a trendy place for people to live, and the poor people get pushed out of their neighborhood. Their neighborhood is theirs until the richer people need a new place to move to.

    To an extent one does have a choice whether to partake in this game of buying and selling. One can choose to not sell their dignity for a dollar or to sacrifice some income in order to be present for their children. But I think the biggest challenge of all is in our mindsets because even as I write this I run into the confines drawn up by a western value system, one where nothing is free. To change what we can within us, to place our honor and that of others above the dollar is a good place to start.

    • Hello Jessica, thanks for your comment. I agree that it is misplaced sense of values things over time with a child–and I wonder what kind of message this conversation gave the child– that his mother had to leave him in order to get him “things”.
      Urban “renewal” is an ironic term for all the reasons you note. There is a great gaping hole dug out the center of Eugene–just a hole in the ground resulting from failed urban renewal, whereas Corvallis has a great downtown since–at least that is the story I have heard, its urban renewal funds did not come through. Now REAL urban renewal is the creation of gardens in central Detroit set in the place of abandoned inner city industry.
      The ways in which urban renewal has relocated the poor throughout other urban areas is tragic.
      It is hard to disentangle, as you note, from this buying and selling mentality. The place to start is to get a sense of what we really want– and what is really of value to us– as you have also indicated here.

  46. The more I learn about the true nature of our capitalist system the more I am convinced that it is not a sustainable system. It promotes poor values and greed that puts not only our environment at risk, but human life as well. We are always being marketed to about the giving side of corporations in the community despite what they are truly doing under everyone’s noses. It is unfortunate that they spend more time accounting for the value they are getting and lining teir pockets with, but have no thought of calculating the cost of their actions. They have no concept of how to utilize the precautionary principle. It is my opinion that it wouldn’t fall in line with their monetary forecasts.

    • Great observations, Kathleen. The clock is always ticking off the time left on any sustainable system. I think that a first step toward reforming this system is to step back from knowingly putting any dollars into things that hurt other humans or our ecosystems–a tall order, as you indicate, in the current capitalist system.

  47. Yes, let us open our hymnals and sing the praises of the almighty dollar. As you point out there are somethings you just can’t decided with market forces. But, to borrow another one of your ideas “Sometimes things get better.”

    The Boy Scouts own a chunck of land in Happy Valley called Scouters Mountain. Lovely place, can’t even begin to count the gallons of water that have fallen on my head there. A few years back the local council had the land up for sale. There had been a few interested parties, nothing serious. Then a curious thing happened, the mortgage market collapsed and along with it the market for new homes. Suddenly the valley below was filled with unsellable houses and property values dropped like a rock. The land they scouts were trying to sell is now so “worthless” they couldn’t find a buyer and just took it off the market. Sometimes things get better.

    On the subject of leeching plastics. I’ve heard of the results of some research addressing LD50 (average lethal dose) for adult populations. But now that I think about it, I don’t remember any highlighting the levels that will cause long term nonfatal damage in adults. I’m sure I haven’t seen any addressing the effects in children’s much smaller still developing bodies. That’s quite an over sight. I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased here being married to a chemist. Maybe there is more to it than much ado about nothing.

    • The results are not good for plastics or some plasticizers (like BPA) in small doses as the evidence comes in, Peter. The FDA has just put out a new report on BPA. the trouble is that there are 80,000 human-made chemicals out there and only a few with testing-and a large number of those turn out to be known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, etc. (See “Dandelion Wars” for more info). Actually, it turns out that sometimes small doses are more toxic than large ones: they get through our body’s defenses, whereas single large doses may not. And then there are those persistent and highly toxic chemicals which may have have an LD50 of an amount so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye (dioxins are among these). The European Union just doubled the number of chemicals it classifies on this list.
      Does that mean all chems are bad? Hardly: we are made of chemicals. With human-made chemicals, we need the precautionary principle–and you or your wife might be interested in checking into the “green chemistry” links on this site under “science”.
      And as per your comment on pricing: since it is all abstract, it is all just as liable to vast swings in “value”.

  48. It’s interesting to think about all of the things we have decided to manufacture over the years to make things more convenient for us. Plastic water bottles are one of those inventions that have hurt our environment and ourselves more than helped it. Who knew the idea of having water with us at all times in this convenient closable container would become so much of a problem that we now have floating islands of these containers in the oceans and BPA coursing through our veins?

    • Hi Katy, we certainly need to re-evaluate all those conveniences that ads tell us we need. Once upon a time the water in the Willamette River was drinkable–and this being a country so full of water, we needn’t carry water if we knew where it was. There are immense difficulties with plastic water bottles besides the ones you cite. The Wintu people of Northern California are fighting a German water company that wants to draw down their river to bottle it and put a dam on the river to help them do this.
      On the other hand, people like the Bangladesh women in the New Agricultural Movement discussed here or the Mixteca farmer Jesus Leon Santos (cited with the Goldman Prize) have used place-specific traditional farming methods to restore their lands–and their water tables.

  49. There are a lot of good point in this article. The first that caught my attention was how frustrating those conversation between the Native Americans and the men who were trying to take or buy the land. Coming from such drastically different mindsets seemed to make conversation and understanding virtually impossible. It would be like a fish trying to tell a bird that it can’t fly or a bird try to explain to a fish why it can’t stay underwater. Each knows what it knows so well that it’s probably hard to understand a different mindset.

    The other idea that struck me was all the things we are doing in manufacturing and even in health care that seem to be so backward. I wonder if the initial intent truly was an honest attempt to find products and goods that would benefit society, or if it always has been just about making money.

    • You have a good point about perspective here, Alyssa. The mathematician Kurt Goedel won the Nobel Prize for proofs that one cannot critique a system from within–but only from without (since from within, one keeps coming back to one’s a priori assumptions). I think that is why stepping out of our own worldview is so important in gaining perspective. As for your last question about money, I think we have been wrestling for some time with the Calvinist idea that God gives wealth to good people… crossing wealth and morality in this way has led us to some problematic consequences indeed.

  50. It is hard to imagine how the proposal would have looked to the Native Americans. Move to land, better land and you will be taken care of. It sounds like quite the offier, but knowing what we know now that was a mistake in every possible way. Land is a funny thing, then it was extremely valuable to the Native Americans although not in a monetary sense. Today, land is of significant value and a sign of success. To own a home on some property, although these days often not much property is much sought after. It makes me think things don’t really change as much as they modify or adjust to the new demand.

    Business does indeed put a price on life, everything has a price. In reading this I think about settlements I enter into in my line of work, every life is priced by life expectancy, rated ages. This puts a different perspective on it for me going forward.

    The plastics portion just disturbs me, I used those Drop In’s (bottle liners) for all my babies. Granted they are healthy and thriving, but I might not have been so quick to choose them had I given thought the plastic. I was more concerned with the bacteria issue with regular bottles.

    • Actually, this offer never came through–though it sounds like a good promise to us. But to native peoples giving up the land that cared for them as they cared for it was a poor bargain in any event– why should they want to leave that land go to another (tiny fraction of the same space) where the land no longer provided for them so that the government had to?
      It is sad that we don’t know the effects of some of the chemicals we find convenient until after we have been exposed– that is one reason why I think we need the precautionary principle.
      Thanks for the comment, Bernadette.

  51. Some excellent points are made in this essay. It seemed to be a conqueror/subject mindset which made it impossible for Governor Stevens to accept as equally valid alternate worldview philosophies. The concept that the land of the area was subject to ownership and for a price could be transferred from one individual or group to another must have been as alien to the Chehalis as the idea that a group of people would not move across country for their “own betterment” was for government agent Joel Palmer. This would seem to be an example of an area when compromise between two groups is difficult or impossible due to an inability to accept the other viewpoint as equally valid.

    • Hi Jeff, thoughtful comment. I think exchanging land was as foreign to these folks as someone’s asking you to exchange a child or other family member might be to us: their tradition had that kind of intimacy with their land. I think compromise is a difficult issue when one group is in the position of conquest over another. That is, the US government did not take no for an answer, and thus resorted to force by which they simply took the land they wanted in a number of different areas. Their sense of license is indicated historically by the Donation Act, which ceded native land to emigrants before native peoples had agreed to sign away the title.

  52. When a price is put onto an object, that object is viewed differently by people; as the leaders were trying to do when the Indians refused to sign the Cosmopolitan treaty. The indigenous people understood nothing they received was more valuable to them than staying on the land of their ancestors. But the people trying to convince them they needed to move and put incentives in front of them, did not comprehend the worldview of the indigenous people.

    Several years ago we would go to the Pendleton Roundup in Pendleton Oregon. At first it was fun, but as I watched the Indians perform their native dances and rituals, something would always tug at me. I watched with amazement how beautiful their dress was and how graceful and peaceful their dances were. Knowing they lost much of their land and the emotional hurt that is experienced when applied to many past generations of ancestors caused sincere concern.

    It is amazing how some people put a value onto something and think everyone will look at it the same way. What is personally valuable to one person, a price cannot alter their feelings. As an example, last week the founder of our teen homeless program hosted a dinner thanking all the volunteers for their work. Prior to the dinner several people got together and made beautiful plates honoring the work that has been accomplished. I was fortunate enough to receive one. As beautiful as they are, I’m sure many people would pay a high price to have it and put it on their walls. But for me, no price would be enough. Every time I look at the beautiful creation it reminds me of people very special to me. Something money cannot replace. And although this is on a low scale compared to the indigenous people’s land, it is still an example you cannot put a monetary value on something that is near and dear to your heart.

    • Hi Marla, thanks for sharing the touching personal example of something priceless for what it represents to you– I am sure that those you helped at this shelter received something priceless from you as well.
      A key point about the worldview differences in terms of pricing the land.

  53. What is really upsetting is how the settlers and government moving in were unable to comprehend the native peoples love for the land. The natives were unable to convince Isaac Stevens that the land meant more to them than money because to Stevens it was just a commodity. To him and the other settlers the land was simply something to be obtained and then used up. To the natives it was something that they had always been a part of and didn’t want to separate from it because it helped to define them as people.

  54. This article is particularly pertinent to me, because I worked for e GMO company for awhile, which is what initially fueled my interest in environmental concerns. I could go on for hours on this subject, but let me suffice in saying that gene slicing is not an exact science, and the companies making these biotech foods usually do not know the full effects that their DNA changes will have on the humans consuming them. Products are rushed through government regulation through lobbyists, hurried feed trials, and are immediately thrust into the market place. Junk DNA changes and inadvertent changes in the genomes are in every GMO product in the grocery store. What’s most frustrating about the unethical work these companies perform is their endless capacity for spending on legal fees to keep labeling off of their products. Where as in Europe, GMO’s are often not accepted at all in the market place, in the US they dominate every grocery store and citizens are not even aware of it. Most people never question their giant shiny perfect red strawberries, and are defiantly not aware that they are most likely genetically spliced with DNA from deep sea fish. These bizarre changes would disturb most shoppers, so the GMO industries major concern is making sure consumers never find out through product labeling.
    Another thing I find disturbing in this piece is the “giant floating plastic island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.” In my opinion, all plastics should be banned worldwide immediately. I definitely try not to use plastics and especially in water bottles. I’m certain these polymers are getting into our bodies. I try to use glass or ceramic for everything I can. I am not even very comfortable using metals to prepare my food, as I don’t want metallic molecules getting into my body. For example my wife has photo myoclonus which she has traced to mercury she received in a vaccination in high school. Introducing these foreign substances into the body can cause bizarre reactions we don’t anticipate. I expect the plastic molecules in our environment are getting into our food, and we are experiencing illnesses caused by them, but are not recognizing plastics are the cause.

    • Gene splicing is indeed not an exact science, Joshua–though releasing gene-spliced products into our food stream is a way of experimenting on humans (and on the environment) without any controls. Things must be hastened through channels, as you aptly put it, in order for such technology to get out–as opposed to the EU policies. I would certainly like to see us implement such care– with respect to pesticides as well as GMO products.
      I am sorry about your wife’s health: and mercury does not have to used as a preservative.
      And as for plastic, I agree we should definitely not be making more. Now that it is out there, we need to figure out how to recycle it.
      Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge with us.
      We need to think these things through more thoroughly, which is why I think we need the precautionary principle.

  55. By putting a price on something, you do in fact take away it’s intrinsic value. It becomes monetary…valueless…tradeable. The problem with this, is that many of the things which we choose to put a monetary value on are not in fact tradeable and replaceable. The refusal of the natives to sign the treaty at the Cosmopolis is an example of this reality. The Governor most likely really thought he was giving the natives an offer worthy of what they were taking. Because he had put a monetary amount on the land, he couldn’t see it’s worth in the eyes of the natives. In their eyes, the land was not something for sale or something that had a price tag. The land had a spirit in which they were connected and to which they belonged. Asking them to leave was asking them to give up a part of themselves.

    • I like your insight about devaluing things by pricing them– and the problems that arise when we try to price something we cannot in fact exchange or replace, Dana. And from what I know about this particular governor, I am a bit more cynical about his motives. In fact, he wrote to some of his colleagues in D. C. that the Indian treaties would be honored only in the short-term– until the emigrants could gain more military power and then they wouldn’t need to keep their word any more. In fact, this was a common thought in Washington at the time–that treaties were pragmatic while the US was militarily weaker than native people, but after their population grew, they wouldn’t need them anymore.

  56. This article illustrates that there are indeed contrasting world views of nature, and if we wish to develop a common set of environmental ethics we must first understand these different views. Treaties fail because the parties involved are trying to compare apples to oranges, and in the ensuing frustration place blame where blame does not belong. Something of value to one society does not necessarily mean it is valued by another, and understanding this difference in perspective should be step one in any negotiation. I believe common ground can be found in the most difficult of circumstances if everyone involved can approach the situation with an open mind. However, it must also be understood that something of intrinsic value can not simply be replaced. The affects of replacing something in our own physiology emphasizes this impossibly complex issue. The indigenous peoples understood this uniqueness of life, and were not being “recalcitrant” in their rejections of U.S. promises, but simply protecting a piece of themselves. The indigenous peoples are connected to their land, and if this connection is broken both the land and the people suffer.

    • Great point about perspective here, Jordan. In fact, this was the idea that Kurt Goedel won the Nobel Prize for: this mathematician proved one can never gain true perspective on a Western-based logic system from within– since all it allowed you to prove was your own assumptions. You had to stand outside of it in order to be able to properly evaluate it.
      I agree that the effects of replacing things in our own physiology leads to multiple and unpredictable problems. I like the way that you phrased it that in protecting natural systems native peoples were and are (and we might also be) protecting a part of ourselves.

  57. I am absolutely amazed at people’s ability to place a monetary value on life! Who on earth would say, “Sure, I’ll give you my life for X amount of dollars!”!!!! That is just preposterous! What are you going to do with that money after you’re dead? So, essentially, someone is making that decision for someone else – they’re saying that if you were to ask people, they would trade their lives for money if the price was high enough. It’s ridiculous. I realize this is a gross simplification, but when you boil it down to the basic elements of the concept, that’s what’s happening when decisions are made to risk life because the cost of preventing the damage is not worth it.
    Then the idea that we think we can arbritrarily create new things and put them into natural bodies without seeing a cause for alarm when we can’t even begin to learn how systems within our body function or how to cure several diseases that have already resulted from our “playing God”. We have to learn someday, right? At what point will this learning take place, though? It almost seems as though we need absolute proof that we’re killing ourselves and the planet before we consider that we might want to take a step back and reevaluate our idea of progress.

    • I agree that it is preposterous to put a price on life: those who are doing the pricing are not pricing their own lives. I certainly hope we learn the lessons you point out, Maria– not only someday but someday very soon.
      We do need to define such things as “progress” (it doesn’t just mean what our culture does).

  58. The problem is not just the Western view of property or “pricing the priceless”. Reading this article made me realize another aspect of the Western world view which underlies these issues. Our Western European court system, going back the the Middle Ages, is also a culprit. In that view, nothing has validity unless proven in court. If the Indians had only known about western attorneys, they could have filed “legal” deeds for vast sections of land, then taken settlers to court, etc. over inhabiting their lands. This is very different from the treaties signed by the government. The “legal” world view is also a big problem in the examples of plastics and genetic tampering. That is, unless it is “proven” in a court of law, these things are not harmful, in the western view. This is compounded by the fact that statistical relationships are not “proof” of harm. It took about 40 years of evidence for the court system to finally rule against the tobacco companies. It will, likewise, take decades of harm before the courts “get to decide” about the harm of plastics, genetically altered plants, etc.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Taylor. As you point out, if our courts are the major ones who decide such issues, they ought to be deciding them more quickly. Actually, the Indians Claims Commission gave native peoples the opportunity to bring their past wrongs to court in 1946. It was supposed to last a few years, but so many native people took advantage of it, the process went on for over three decades.
      It is hard to remedy technological problems after the fact and repair the harm done, which is why I think the precautionary principle should be put into force.
      Also, we need oversight agencies that actually do their job, as in the EU’s REACH program. I am heartened by recent EPA moves under Obama in the direction of re-assessing chemicals that have been released without testing– and older chemicals the EPA frankly states are cancer causing but which are still on the market.

  59. The statement, “All human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic. We have no idea what part of our physiology this replaces.” really shocked me because it illustrates the connectedness of our actions with the consequences in a way that everyone can relate to. I realized that we’re always accumulating small amounts of foreign substances all the time, but I never thought about what they are replacing. Your right we can’t just replace similar objects with the same face value, because some things are subjective in what they are worth. It’s like if you own an old leather wallet your dad gave you a long time ago. It may be worth only a couple of dollars, but to you its priceless. Its been passed down for many generations, and has stories and experiences connected to it. This is why Stevens was having such a hard time figuring out why these native people wouldn’t leave the land they were on for similar land. He didn’t take the time to realize that it wasn’t just a place they all live, it was something that carried stories and traditions passed down by many generations. This was not just land, it was a loved one that they were unwilling to leave. This was the place that cared for them and kept them alive, like a parent takes care of their child.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Benj. Good analogy about the priceless wallet and the land taking care of us as a child is cared for by its parent. It does seem to me that there are certain things (like life) that should be priceless in all cultures.

  60. This topic reminds me of some of the storyline in “Avatar” where the developer is saying to the researchers “It’s just a tree; they can go and find another tree to live in.” The natives live at a place called “Hometree” that had served as their tribe’s home for generations upon generations. The main character as he begins to truly understand the native people states in his diary video log that “They will never leave Hometree. They aren’t going to take sports jerseys and a bud light in exchange for their home.” We materialize everything and the fact that these natives saw the colonials as the dumb, blind, and ignorant ones speaks much to our society. I am sure the frustration levels these native people felt while trying to make these colonials understand the concept of their land can be summed up by the quote from the movie when the main female character saves the newcomers life by the senseless killing of wild animals to save him. She tells him after he thanks her “This is not something for thanks…this is sad.” “They did not need to die.” “You are stupid like a child who doesn’t understand.” How can you possibly hope to explain something to a child that refuses to listen and understand? The movie truly does an excellent job at illustrating our views of pricing land, and looking at a locations monetary value over its spiritual value.

    • Interesting tie ins with Avatar: do you see any reason why this might be a metaphorical story (besides all the special effects I have heard about- I haven’t seen this) that is particularly popular now, Damien?

  61. This article reminds me of all the issues with cloning. When we start to think like or play the creator, we do things we really have no idea what we are dealing with or the effects of such actions.
    Also the thought of plastic in my body hit home as I am typing away here drinking from a plastic water bottle. I do not like the idea that there is plastic floating away in my blood or other body part.
    As for a price it is similar to my baby bear. I have had him since I was one. He is old and manky. I could get another one on Ebay in better condition, but it would never be the same. I know where all the little holes came from, when his nose got ruined and what I was doing at that time. He tells a story, only I know. I understand it is not the same as land, or home, but it does show that money or a similar object cannot and will not ever be a replacement for the real thing.

    • Hi Adeena, your bringing up cloning (and the hubris it entails) reminds me of a statement of a prominent modern scientist (James Watson): “If scientists don’t play God, who will?” I think the point is that all humans need to stop “playing God”, since arrogance is the root of many our modern problems.
      Your “baby bear” and his “telling a story” in your life is a perfect example of something that cannot be purchased at any price.

  62. It’s pretty amazing that Ford figured the price of a human life to be less than the cost to fix the Pinto gas tank. That makes me wonder how other companies view the price of a human life.

    I also think that it is amazing how often companies market products without testing the longterm effects. One would think that after all the class action lawsuits against stuff like that companies would be more interested in longterm testing. I suppose that profits are the most important thing to most businesses.

  63. The idea that property can exist and not be owned is hard for many people to imagine because in the Western worldview it is hard to separate the idea of property from the idea of owners. Land in this view is either owned by someone or by no one, in either view the idea of land assomething that can be owned applies. Land that has not been claimed is seen as available or waiting for an owner, I feel. About 18 years ago I was in Copenhagen and I visited a place there called Christiania, it was an area of town called the “free place”. Christiania was a commune where no real property could be owned, people did have personal private possessions, unlike real property they can be moved. Anyway, it seemed odd to me that there were houses there with people living in them but no one owned them, the houses seemed so unsecure. It seemed to me as a youngster that people needed to own property to keep it from being destroyed. Now, I am not so sure, I think people feel as if something can be owned that it can also be destroyed. To me this shows that resources such as land and water should be used and respected, not owned.

    • Thanks for your interesting comment, Brandon. I have heard of this place in Denmark. I wonder what you think about public ownership of particular areas–and work of organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Perhaps we can redefine ownership as caring for a bit of land rather than having the right to exploit it?

  64. This essay really got me a thinking a bit, particularly the parts about exchanging plastics for products of natural systems and replacing genes. It seems to me as if the things we have created have doomed us all. Considering the law “everything must go somewhere” written by Barry Commoner in his “Four Laws of Ecology”, every time we create something that’s not natural to this earth it creates a new cycle by messing with other natural cycles on earth. This is why we see, as you state, “all human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic”. Therefore, we are now faced with issues we that “we cannot contain”. I think that maybe it’s time to stop creating alternatives to things and start using what we got.

  65. I don’t feel like I have a home. Maybe thats why the early settlers had no regard for the native people. They had to leave their homes and why should the native people get to keep their homeland. It wasn’t their land, so exploit it.

    I wish I had a homeland. I don’t even know where my ancestors are from past 4 generations. I wouldn’t take that out on the locals though.

    • Thoughtful self-reflection, Dana. Perhaps there was some jealousy and resentment toward those so secure on their land on the part of those who had no such security. Although I might add another point that the wagon train pioneers were not generally among the poor– they had to have a substantial stake to pay for their wagons and goods, so actually, they tended to be among the more well to do– as compared with, for instance, the factory workers in New England in the mid-1800s.

  66. Definitley every place in the natural world is unique and therefore irreplaceable. Perhaps the United States no longer feels unique in most places due to the sameness of corporations but every place in ecologically unique. On another point, I would not agree that the president did not understand the indigenous worldview rather he refused to act on it as it is a simple enough principle. It is all about profit though and one must adhere to a dominating worldview to justify such action. When Ford and the EPA put a price-tag on a human life they are merely expressing the opinion of our society which is that everything has a price-tag. What else is there in life besides money seems to be the question the economically powerful view the world with. Yet the bottom of the economic food chain often posses such a worldview as well which just goes to show that this all-consuming perspective is overwhelmingly problematic and foolish besides. The real value in lfie is greatly in in the beauty of the natural world and everywhere expect for monetary functions generally.

    • I think you are right that every place on earth is unique, Sky. I am not sure which president you are speaking about here– I do agree that worldview is no excuse for destructive action. I find it hopeful that the new EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, is taking a very different tact– one that focuses more on the protection of our environment and regulating toxins in a way that has previously not been the case. I agree with you about the intrinsic value–real beauty– of the natural world.

  67. The closing statement of this article really captured my attention: “The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high—it is devalued. For then it can be bought.” Indeed, our culture sees nearly everything in terms of its monetary value. After receiving a gift, it is not uncommon for one to first consider how much was spent on the gift and then evaluate what kind of a thank you the gift “deserves.” We don’t appreciate the gesture until we know the money behind it. We may say that the best gifts are from a big heart, but what we really mean is that the best gifts are from a big wallet. In a society that is so caught up in money, how do we get people to realize and value the intrinsic worth of land and nature? Or even just value it in general? I took an environmental economics class last year, and my professor told me I should double major in economics because then I can have an economic argument to support any project I might want to support in the future—because people respond to money. To me, in a way, this is settling for less. People should value nature because of its intrinsic beauty; we are ourselves nature. When we put a price on nature we are indeed saying it can be bought and traded and replaced for anything else. Putting a price tag on nature may make people start to pay attention to it and value it, but not in any lasting way—just like every other product in our market, if we make nature a product, we subject it to further exploitation because then people can profit from it monetarily. It will simply be turned into a way to get ahead and as soon as it is no longer needed, it will be replaced. So how do we get people to value nature in its own right? For its beauty? For its reciprocity and serenity? Or is getting people to value it economically the only way our general population will value it at all? Call me an idealist, but I don’t want to settle for less. I want to live in a society that reflects that essential aspect of indigenous worldviews—that each individual person and natural life, especially lands, has a unique value that cannot be replaced or exchanged for any other. How do we get there? By doing just what we are doing here—sharing ideas and insights, listening to Mother Nature and each other, and making our words our actions.

    • I love your last line here, Kirsten. Sometimes it seems like a long road between here and the vision you propose, but when you present the kinds of thinking you do here, it seems that we are already part way there. I heartily agree with you about living in a society that sees the intrinsic value of human life and natural systems.
      We will certainly need, as you indicate, to share insights and listen to one another, in order to address the serious issues facing us, but I take hope from the commitment and insight of those such as yourself who have so much to offer our shared future.

  68. I completely agree with this blog entry. What most people in our society don’t seem to understand (or choose not to think about) is that money is only worth what people say it is worth. Money has no inherent value. It is not nourishing, nor does it have innate power to sustain us. Land, however, has nothing but value. So much so, in fact, that it is truly priceless. The idea of trading money for land is therefore ludicrous, as they do not even exist in the same realm of currency (something with innate value vs. something with no innate value).

    I was also heartened by the idea that no person could ever replace another. In the views of the indigenous people, each person is celebrated for their uniqueness. It seems that in our society, people tend to be shunned for their uniqueness. The patriarchal and capitalist mindsets that surround us teach us to fear difference instead of embracing it. Leslie Marmon Silko wrote about this point of view. I am paraphrasing here, but basically she wrote that Western ideas of beauty are ridiculous to indigenous peoples. Each person is as beautiful as they can be, because they are the most perfect them that they can possibly be. (Again, that was heavily paraphrased). I love this idea, and only wish that it was something that our society could come to embrace.

    • Great reminder that the value of money “is only worth what people say it is worth”– that is, it is just an abstract human-designated value. There isn’t much to a dollar bill as a piece of green paper otherwise. Land, however, is as you also remind us, worth far more than the value (unfortunately) that humans set on it. On the basis of intrinsic value, as you logically point out, Amanda, trading something with no intrinsic value for something with immense intrinsic value makes no sense.
      I very much like this idea of Silko’s concerning beauty. It is a great alternative to holding everyone to one standard. Thanks for sharing it!

  69. It seems like since the industrial age, as we continue to clear and pave and build and clear again, we are losing a sense of uniqueness throughout the world. We are approaching a sort of “seen one, seen ‘em all” attitude in which we are no longer either surprised or intrigued. National parks like Arches and Zion are amazing and unique in an extreme way, and fortunately we are bright enough to conserve these places to at least some extent. While I support our national parks and conservation efforts by all means, the problem with idolizing a few places is that we are devaluing others in the process. As we continue to grow in population and in our insatiable consumption of immaterial goods, we are picking off these places one at a time in based on relative aestheticism and convenience. Consider the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next on the list. I would like to know at what point in modern economics does a place become “valuable” enough to conserve…and who gets to make that call.

    • In our quotes to ponder is one by Wes Anderson (Becoming Native to this Place), in which he says if we cannot revere the places each of us live as well as these unique natural wonders, we will not generate enough care to treat our environmental properly.
      Thanks for sharing a thoughtful point, Kate. What a joy is would be to bring a sense of wonder to the nature that is all around us– including our own bodies. I have often thought of things like wound healing– can you imagine trying to rationally instruct your body to do that? And yet it know how. I don’t think we should lose track of such every present wonders.

  70. When Stevens said that “father in Washington” could ensure their safety if they left but couldn’t if they stayed in the way of the pioneers. He was not only threatening their way of life but he was also replacing the Native “father” as they know him with some government agency that the Natives knew nothing about.

    With our increased mobility, people are less likely to stay in one place for very long let alone a generation or two. The natives had been there for many many generations. This was their home land, this is where their ancestors are buried. This was the land of their future, how could some stranger come in and threaten to remove them or try to bribe them. The land didn’t belong to them, it belonged to everyone. How could they sell what they did not own?

    • Great point about selling what they did not own, Jeff. Didn’t stop the government who declared that certain people owned the land and then made “forced treaties” with them– whether they were really the land’s original residents or represented them or not.
      To replace the nurturance of the land with the patronage of the “father in Washington” was, as you note, quick a leap-and one most native people did not wish to make given a choice.

  71. I definitely have items that belong to me that I consider priceless therefore I can only imagine what it must be like to have something that personal stripped away. Especially in a way that destroys its worth, for example the Muckleshoot Cultural Committee’s land that was lost to the construction of a highway. The demand for such land is becoming overbearing. I like the description that how much people are willing to pay determines something’s value. I use to wonder why buying a dog was always so expensive. It is a being like a child, but we don’t put price tags on children. I’d like to know how we came up with the value for a dollar.

    • An empathetic comment about having something priceless stripped from us, Angela. Why we decided to make dollar represent value for us is an interesting question to ponder. Just because we have made it a symbol of value does not mean that it has to continue to represent all value for us.

  72. The only way I can think of personally to understand the deep connection the Indians had to their land and how precious it is to them is to consider how I feel about my kids. I could never put a price on their value. I see them as perfectly imperfect, precious and such a part of me that if anything ever happens to one of them a part of me will die too. This is how I see the Indian connection to their land to be. Such a part of them that to be separated from them would be unbearable. This perspective finally opens up my eyes to how unbelievably beautiful their worldviews are. What I wouldn’t give to feel that connection to a place, to live in that love daily, to feel gratitude for all that is around me and to never have to feel the lonliness of disconnection again. I understand the determination not to leave their land because it’s not just a plot for exploitation but a part of them as my kids are a part of me. What have we done in our greed? I’m mortified at their loss. Their love for the environment, understanding it, and wisdom of the ages really is what might save us.

    • A hopeful vision, Sue. I really do think that there is a relationship with the land–whether indigenous or small farmers expressing Wendell Berry’s “agrarian mind” that sees the land as intimately as family–and such connection to the land will save us if anything will.

  73. The value that one places can be measured differently. The indigenous culture does value their lands–they are sacred and have placed an intrinsic value–that has nothing to do with material or monetary value. They don’t think in those terms. They are so interconnected that this is inconceivable. The indigenous people view themselves as an extension of their land. They identify themselves with the land. Their ancestors have spent thousands of years nurturing and learning from the land in which they live. There is no value in material goods or money/gold to these people. They have a different value system. I wonder if part of the reason for refusing to leave their land had to do with the responsibility and respect for their land. Reciprocity with the natural world and responsibility to their land are engrained into their culture–their existence–it’s who they are. I wonder if they felt that they needed to protect and honor their stewardships to the land, by leaving they would feel that they shirked their responsibility. Maybe they had observed the white settlers and understood more about their worldview. Maybe they knew that if they allowed the settlers to have the land that the land would suffer and be abused because it was not valued and treated with reciprocity and respect.

    The settlers/pioneers have a different value system- a different way in which they measure something’s worth. The land only had value if they could use for their own needs– nature’s needs are not considered or even realized.

    The two worldviews are so different. One worldview has taken just a couple hundred years to nearly destroy a land that had been thriving under a different worldview’s care for thousands of years.

    • Money represents only value that we can count, Erin.
      These two worldviews are indeed different. In one, making money is the goal (and necessary for survival in our economic system). And in the other, the land is priceless because it is the source of life–and so much more than survival.
      It is absolutely true that one can be so intimate with the land that it is “who we are”– as has been true of so many humans for so many thousands of years prior to industrial and colonial societies. Thanks for your comment.

  74. The part that stood out most to me in this article was about not being able to recreate a new wetland to make up for taking one out. Of all the examples of putting in a similar product to compensate, this might be the hardest for people to grasp. I think you have to have a fair amount of understanding of ecology in order to grasp this, but it’s so true.
    One of the swaps that annoys me most in this world is purchasing energy credits to make up for a larger carbon footprint. Theoretically, if we all had enough money, we could just keep emitting carbon to our heart’s desire with no guilt. This means that we don’t have to actually change the poor practices we’ve had for so many years. I feel like using the term interdependent so frequently now that I’ve learned it in this class – the examples in this article being the reason. Each item we are trying to replace is part of a greater whole, not just its own unit that can be moved at our will. The entirety of interactions is not something science will ever be able to fully map.

    • You have a key point about the ineffectiveness of carbon trading– which is perhaps worse than nothing, as it allows everyone to keep on putting out carbon, Jamie. Yesterday a friend of mine put out the notion that what we really need is to decide how much carbon we need to cut, how much we can emit– and ration it. That is very different from passing these credits around.
      And this notion that we can just partition the land and remake it is a fake “mitigation” as well. Nature has good reason for putting a wetland where it did– not where it is convenient for us. Thanks for your comment!

  75. While reading this article, I am reminded of my own ingrained worldviews. I have lived in Oregon for almost 5 years, and in these few years, I have had that many homes. I am a renter and moving is circumstantial, but very much a part of my experience here. I means nothing for me to pack up and move if a living situation becomes stale or if I find something cheaper. It’s almost exciting. I don’t know what it is to feel connected to a place, even my beloved Northwest.
    Things are becoming more and more fleeting with technology advancing. It seems as if time is moving faster and faster and could at any point spin out of control!

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective from your own experience, Ashley. I wonder how you might find a more satisfying sense of place in the context of our ever-moving culture.

  76. I really like the main message that this article gives. The idea that certain things can have a monetary value boggles me. For example, it has been said that the value of the ecological systems in the world is over $33 trillion a year. It sounds like a lot (cause it is), but does that mean that if we had that kind of money, then we could destroy it all and continue on living?… I would think not, therefore it has no monetary value.
    Another example of placing a price on the priceless, but this time making it work, is when New York City decided to buy a pristine water basin and preserve it, so that they could have clean water and not pay for a far more expensive water treatment plant.
    I question if the US leadership, during the Indian treaty talks, really did understand the Natives perspective on property ownership, but did not except the reasoning behind it. What I mean is if I asked a settler of the time, “could we take and cut it all down?”… I believe he would scoff at me and say no way. However, the Indian might say yes to such a question because of the believe in conservation and responsibilities to the land.

    • Purchasing something to take it out of the market so that it will be preserved is an interesting way to be proactive as in the case of New York City water, Zachary. I’m not sure the pioneers looked that far ahead-and in fact, in the case of the Hudson’s Bay Company anyway, they set out to purposefully deplete local beaver so that no other company would be tempted to come in and compete with them.

  77. In this article lies one of the greatest failings of our society, in my mind. Not everything can be bought and sold. And just because it can be priced and sold doesn’t mean that it should. Turning the land of the United States into a commodity and taking it out from under the Native Americans is one of the greatest injustices we could have done to them. The Chehalis man who said, “Move my body anywhere you wish, but cut off my head and place it on the land of my people,” tried his best to explain the difference, but you can’t change the mind of people who don’t listen.
    I wonder how much the white settlers really didn’t understand the worldview of the Native Americans, and how much they just didn’t want to. If they had truly understood the importance of the land and the fact that it couldn’t be replaced with other land, it would have made it harder to take the land from the Indians. However, if they convinced themselves that the Indians weren’t really using the land, and that they truly were giving them as good as they got, it made it easier to ignore the injustice they were committing. It just seems like a case of willful ignorance to me.

    • I think you have something there in terms of “willful ignorance”, Spencer. Denial is that kind of process: being purposefully blind when seeing might stand in the way of what we want to do. To buy land to native peoples was the same as trying to buy life. But then we patent particular human cells and price human life in cost benefit analysis, so perhaps we don’t have an aversion to this either.

  78. While reading this article, another instance of putting a price on things that should be priceless popped into my mind. I have always held an interest in learning about injustices people have suffered and why. This article reminded me of numerous other articles I have read about people who have been wrongfully imprisoned. People who were put on death row (and sometimes already executed) before DNA testing reached the technological advancements we have access to today, but then were found innocent once this technology was able to be utilized. Even though these wrongfully accused people spent years of their lives locked up in the prison system, the government just simply releases them and gives them money to try and replace the time they have lost. It’s astonishing to see the eagerness some people have to be able to simply put a materialistic price on things such as time, lives, and land.
    It’s also astonishing to read about some of the things (like plastic) that people unknowingly put into their bodies. If nature would have wanted us to have mass amounts of plastic and other non-naturally occurring materials in our bodies than it would have given us the physiological equipment to be able to deal with it. Or at least that’s my thought on the matter.

    • Putting a price on life is crass as well as foolhardy-and often downright cruel, Megan. I actually see some benefit in compensating the people invovled in some way– though of course, as you note, no amount of money can replace years of our lives. I do think that paying these folks maybe, just maybe might lead to being more careful in the future (but that is only my hopeful take on this).

  79. If we tried to go back to a point in our past where people don’t own land, what is going to keep other world powers, who will then have become stronger than us, from taking the land away from us for the next wave of settlers? I agree that indigenous people should be protected, left on whatever land they have been able to hold onto and allowed to live their lives. I also think that stronger protective rights should be made that protects the lands around those of indigenous people so that the pollution, waste production and other contaminants that they don[‘t participate in won’t spoil their land by migration. I think that through the thousands of years that Europeans have lived on this earth and taught every day of their lives that they have no protection from the world without landownership it is going to take ALOT to change that almost primal fear. I sincerely believe people can be retaught but I don’t think the reteaching will have enough effect in my lifetime to do enough good. Maybe if more people have the opportunity to actually see the problem in all its manifestations, the corrections will be made sooner or at least soon enough. We can only pray, and do better in our own lives.

    • It seems to me that we need to change our concept of land from that of ownership as possession to do with what we will — to that of responsibility for, Cendi. And it is my hope that the ecological crises we face might let many of realize together the importance of the commons we share and depend on. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the beginnings of the change you (and I) want to see– even though the media at large mgiht not see it.

  80. I do believe that we as a country need to rethink our stance on sustaining the land as well as what we choose to develop.

    Mocking the mitigation of wetlands, however, is not a step forward. It is true that just because an equal amount of wetland is created elsewhere, the effect is not equal. This is a start however. Would it be better for our ecosystems and natural lands to just develop a wetland without any thought to creating a new habitat elsewhere.

    Wetland Mitigation is a human attempt at restoring the balance we have destroyed. It can not hope to do much to reverse our current path, but it is at least recognizing that we need to do something while on our march to develop and expand.

    • Thoughtful point, Rick. My concern is when mitigation is used as an excuse to develop a wetland– I certainly have no objection to helping create a wetland to replace one already destroyed.

  81. Early this year in my US History class we learned that the Europeans thought the Native American’s ideas of land ownership was barbaric. Native American’s believed that the land belonged to everyone, including other tribes. Land wasn’t owned. The Europeans believe that land ownership brought wealth and status. It’s disturbing to see how a difference in opinion can ruin so many lives. The Europeans thought they were superior and therefore the native’s opinions or rights didn’t matter.
    About two years ago I was diagnosed with PCOS, an endocrine disorder. It wasn’t severe enough that I needed to take any medication, but it was enough for me to sit up and take notice. I did a lot of research and read tons of articles and books about the disorder, its causes, how to reverse it. One main thing that always came up was the BPA in plastics. I grew up using plastics, my mother used plastics for everything, I think we all do. Just in case I stopped using plastics all together. I changed my water bottle to the Sig bottles that have since become popular. I store my food in glass containers. If I do need to use plastic I make sure it’s BPA free. My symptoms have since gone away. Was the plastic to blame? I have no idea. I just know I feel better. I know when I have children they won’t be anywhere near BPAs.

    • Two thoughtful perspectives, Jennifer. More and more data is coming out about endocrine disrupters in plastics–and in pesticides as well. Congratulations on finding this way to care for yourself.

  82. This in my mind goes back to the thought that just because we can do something, doesnt mean we should! Land was never something that needed to be owned. It took care of the people on it as long as those on it respected the land, took care of the land. It was not til Manifest Destiny that the whole idea that in order to spread and grow, you had to control, own the land, take it away from the very people who had been substainably living on it for years.

    I once read with my daughter “The Omnivore’s Dilemna: A Natural History of Four Meals” and highly recommend it to anyone. Its an easy read, but it really puts into perspective the way the land used to be used to provide for people, how things were intertwined with a purpose and what we have done to drastically change it.

    We no longer just try to own and set a price to the land, but to all of nature.

  83. I do not know what is more alarming to me: the fact that plastic has essentially replaced a part of our physiology, the fact that there is a plastic Texas floating in the ocean, or the fact that until I read this article, I may NEVER have known any different. As a society we are clearly controlled by the worldviews of domination and objectification. These worldviews tell us that they are working for our own good, but this does not seem to be the case. It is only when we begin to internalize our relationship with nature that we will begin to effect change. Our leaders need to be confronted with these facts, as I am sure they already are aware of them, and be asked what they are doing about it. We have many sins as a society to repent of, we should start sooner rather than later.

  84. Mitigating negative impacts is marginal at best. The loss of one’s homeland, a wetland or deforestation cannot ever really be mitigated. It seems like a band-aid. I find this similar to carbon credits; to lessen one’s guilt over flying you can buy trees to plant in a country of your choosing. This is not a bad concept but how does it alleviate the original issue? Mitigation, to me, is a frightening proposal because it means that we are giving up one valuable thing for another and the only reason we are mitigating the impacts is because the original thing was unique and priceless or we wouldn’t be mitigating it. It is the guilt factor.

    As people move farther away from the natural world there are other issues that arise. Technology has driven us down a path of cheaper, easier and faster, some for the better and some for the worse. Humans are slowly determining what man made items are beneficial and which may be harmful. The list of adverse health effects of plastics is long and scary and unfortunately many of the plastic that surrounds our food winds up in our bodies from packaging, cooking, and storing in plastics. How are we going to mitigate plastic in our bodies? These posts always seem to create more questions for me.

  85. This article reminded me about the use of asbestos. Most people believe that asbestos is not mined or used anymore. They think that it must be banned because it is a known human carcinogen but it not banned. It’s still used and sold quite often. People continue to use asbestos products in their home that they purchased at the local hardware store, unbeknownst to them. It’s just another example of someone somewhere more concerned about making money than being concerned about the possibility of making someone ill with their product.

  86. What price can you put on a piece of land that has been a part of so many lives for so many generations? Governor Stephens talked down to the indigenous people. He treated them as if they had nothing to do with the sustainability of these lands. I guess in the settlers mind it was thought that the Indians had built a great land for them. Now it is the way they want it, and has resources to manipulate, it was time to move them. The negotiations were designed to just get rid of them. How can you mitigate a loss of resources? To take so much from the indigenous people and give them an area of land that may not be an eighth of what they are used to is incomprehensible. But it happened with these treaties all of the time. The mindset of exchanging anything for something else is sometimes a dangerous proposition. We need not to trade away the past for the future. We need to learn from our past actions and realize how the events of the past changed the people and the land.

    • I completely agree with Scott, and one of his statements really spoke to me. He wrote “What price can you put on a piece of land that has been a part of so many lives for so many generations?” What a turn of phrase! Indeed, what arbitrary price can we put on a piece of land that has meant so much to so many? In many Native American cultures, a place’s existence teaches lessons. There is a writer named Keith Basso, who spent a lot of time with a Native American tribe trying to understand their ideas and customs. One man told him that, in their worldview, “wisdom sits in places.” When the people want to gently correct the behavior of their fellow tribesman/woman, they mention something that has happened at a place, because this indirect criticism helps people to realize the error of their ways without any insults or hurt feelings. Children are taken to these places and told stories of the land, stories that teach them valuable lessons about life. These are reasons why the land is so valuable. As I pointed out before, it seems that money is a strange thing to exchange for land. Money has no inherent value. Land is nothing but richness and value. Money’s value constantly fluctuates, but the land consistently takes care of us. It seems like a faulty system.

  87. (PHL 443 Student Reply) This article shows the vast differences in world views among the Native Americans and the Euro-American settlers. No amount of gold or material items could make up for the loss of their land. That land was as much a part of them as their arms they used to care for it and legs they used to walk on it. Taking away any part of that equation would be like placing a tourniquet on the people. However, the Euro-Americans could not understand this sense of belonging or kinship with the land. If you look at Europe’s past, it can make sense. Through wars and indentured servitude, no one ever felt the connectedness in Europe as the people here had.

  88. It seems like everything today is turned into a commodity, and that the monetary system for assigning value is seriously inadequate because so many things are entirely left out of the equation. Through the capitalistic economic system everything is objectified and turned into something that can be possessed, which in my opinion immediately takes away from the intrinsic and holistic value of the thing itself. It is frightening to me that companies place an economic value on a human life, that plastic has become a part of the human body and that despite serious substantiated socio-economic and environmental concerns genetically modified foods are so pervasive in mainstream industrial agriculture, and I agree that it is time to rethink this current value system based solely on demand and willingness to pay determining value. Lastly, I wanted to say that this article made me think about the difficulties of communication. I think about the relationships in my own life and how hard it can be to communicate a feeling or emotion to a loved one that has the same background, the same native language and shares a similar worldview. Trying to communicate when two worldviews and perspectives are so opposed to each other seems incredibly difficult, even in a non-oppressive and domineering situation, whereas the situation described was obviously not.

  89. I believe it is still possible to turn around the ideals of industrial nations. If tribes across the world could understand the preciousness of nature and the living things on earth then it must be possible to educate people who have scientific data of the importance of nature. The issue really is how to make them see. In our society nothing is priceless. Even life as was stated here, we put a price on. We are willing to risk the lives of people with contamination and poisoning of the earth and water sources. If we had the ability to have grown in a society with respect for nature and for ourselves we would not have wanted a materialistic society built on production and consumption, but the ideals of the last 200 years were very different. We now are trying to turn back a clock that many do not want to reverse. Being comfortable in a home with heating, electricity, plastic Tupperware and an array of home products has become necessary. If we don’t have these things how will we live? It really is changing that mentality. Doing that would change the way people act. I have always thought that nature was the closest thing to perfection. Its balance and harmony are amazing and something that is not found in our society. How can we destroy something so pure? Life grows and dies with respect in that cycle and that is what the rest of the world must understand. If land was so important to native tribes, so important they would die to stay where they felt they belonged, it is very sad to see us trade, and sell it for nothing.

    • I agree with you on the point of education, Aimee– I think you have a solid point that understanding and acting upon the preciousness of nature is within the realm of human possibility, since we have seen in done among our fellow cultures. This shows us what we are capable of.
      I too have often felt mystified that we might destroy something so beautiful and perfect as natural systems. It is my sense that the grief involved in this touches many of us– and we only need to feel our power to act differently (as the historical evidence shows us) and then make our actions fit our values. If enough of us swim against the destructive tide, the tide itself must turn.

  90. After reading this, I came to a very sad realization of the people that we have become. While some cultures view things as having no money value, like the way indigenous peoples felt about their land, we have had a different way of looking at things. Our view on value, is there is nothing that can’t be bought at a high enough price. This is a very sad way to live. We place so much importance on money, that we tend to loose our values and importance on the things we truly should love, like our land. The indigenous people before us based their lives on their plentiful and beautiful lives, without the need for materialistic objects.

    When we place all of our values on material objects such as flashy cars, and basically anything high in money values, they tend to take over our lives, and we loose all of the values we once possessed. We would live a much happier and healthier life if we held our values for our land and nature, instead of green paper and shiny cars.

  91. Native Americans understood the value and significance of the land they lived on. It was not just a piece of land that one could buy and sale as they please for profit, but distinctive and imperative to their lives and their people. It was a part of who they were. The westernization process didn’t and never really understood this importance and value. The land had life and a connection to the native people that lived on it, its spirit as real and alive as they were. Indigenous people appreciate and are responsive to the natural world and all living things in it being bonded and connected together. Everything has its purpose and part in the natural world, a specific importance. This article reminded me of this importance.

    • I think we miss a good deal, Francine, when we see fail to see that our lands are a essential part of who we are”. Good thoughts on re-valuing natural things according to their purpose and place in the natural world.

  92. It is horrible how we mistreated the native americans on our arrival to the states. They lived here for thousands of years, the land was truly and still is theirs. The indigenous people always only took what they needed, they didn’t have this greed problem that we do now. We have more than we will ever need, and yet still want more. The example of Governor Stevens not understanding why the natives wouldn’t take money is an example of this. He truly thought what else could they want? But in reality nothing was more important to the natives than their land, which has been their home for centuries.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Brandon. It is truly the case that there is not much else any of us need than good land to support us–and conversely, no way we can live without it. Every technology we have relies at base on natural resources.

    • I think you hit on alot of great point in your response. They lived on the land for thousands of years and took care of it. They used exactly what they needed and never over indulged in anything. Except maybe respect.

  93. There are so many good points in this essay, but one that stuck out for me personally was the idea of mitigating wetland damage during road construction.

    The whole idea that you can destroy something and then somehow recreate what was lost somewhere else seems to me to be an impossibility. It took billions of years for a certain space to become what it is and fit into the puzzle that is the earth’s balance, the idea that we can destroy that in one place and recreate it in another must be seen as a rediculous idea.

    On the theme of this essay, the current oil spill and reparations by BP for the spill brings up the idea of how to “value” wildlife. This is a link to an NPR transcript of an interview on the topic:

    • Good point about the faulty view of the land as bits and pieces that can be moved around at human will, Mark.
      The strained conversation on the attempt to set a price on the wildlife dead as a result of the oil spill goes right to the heart of the matter here. Thanks for the pointed link!

    • I also find the concept of mitigation, as described in this essay, to be kind of puzzling. It’s simply arrogant to think that humans can recreate an intricate ecological niche by flooding an area and possibly attempting to re-locate animal populations (I don’t actually know how people engineer a wetland, but my guess is, not well). Also, they probably place the wetland in an area that is currently undesirable to humans instead of considering what location will be most beneficial to the ecosystem.
      I think it is the physicians oath which states “First, do no harm.” Protecting as much of the environment as we can seems like it would be more effective than waiting until we have broken it to try and fix it.

  94. I have always wondered how we got to the point in life where most of the basic natural needs of man come at a price. In fact that price of living is extremely high if you break it down. I think Westerners who have lived in a land that does not have a deep history (especially a history not tied with their own) cannot fully grasp the concept of feeling connected with a certain piece of land. I think that the statement concerning plastics is very true; we cannot life without them and we are also having a problem living with them. One of the biggest problems of our technology and materialistic society and living habits is that we create without considering consequences.

    • A thoughtful point, Ashley– perhaps setting prices on things leads us to feel we are done with “evaluating” them– thus once we have “paid” for them, we don’t have to think about anything else in terms of using them.

    • Talking about the price of living- one current issue is the privatization of water resources. Many people feel that access to clean water should be a basic human right, and not subject to the control of profit-centered corporations. I believe this is a big issue in the developing world, and something that I’ve heard mentioned but definitely need to learn more about.

      • Privatization of water is a very important issue, not just in the developing world. You may or may not know that a number of the water rights of the Northwest’s pristine resources are being bought up by foreign interests.

  95. Native people of the Northwest used this land to sustain themselves and the earth. The understood the balance of nature and how to help keep it in equilibrium along with themselves. They look care of the land and the land took care of them. They belonged to the land and it to them. It was their livelihood; it was there home, and their shelter. To attempt to trade them for some sort of nominal value would have been an insult to them. How do you trade your life for money? The land was their way of life, they were nomadic and being one with nature was how they survived. By taking away their home and confining them to a small piece of land destroys their culture and their way of life. Your life is invaluable, in the essay it could not of been put any more eloquently then this: “The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high– it is devalued. For then it can be bought.”

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Julie. Just one thing I would like to clarify. These people were NOT nomadic in our usual sense of the term (rootlessly roaming a land–only passing through rather than belonging to it). In fact, the US government argued that the Indians were nomadic and simply “roamed over the land” (rather than farming it as whites did)–and made that an excuse for taking over their land. Though they moved in season to the movements of the land, those movement were repeated year to year over the same territory–and they had winter villages of huge cedar that stood for generations. As a Clatsop pioneer put it, the houses were so sturdy they could only be destroyed with fire– an unfortunate tactic that certain pioneers took up in order to move onto native land.
      And as you note, selling the land was as foreign to these people as selling a member of our family would be to us.

      • Thank you for your comment and you are right I should of been more clear in my use of the word nomadic. That is what I was referring to, how they were able to sustain by moving with the seasons and utilizing the land they belonged to.

        • I understand that you were objecting to boxing people in an reservation– a legitimate response, Julie. Thanks for your comment so that I could bring up this point about “nomadism”.

    • Excellent points Julie. It is sad that people today do not grasp this concept. They think if they offer you money then you should give up your land, what esle do you need? when in reality the natives just want thier home.

  96. As I read the article, I just kept thinking that is why education is so important. Lobbyists don’t simply understand, the pioneers simply didn’t understand, and we still don’t understand because of this problem.

    I think I probably would do the same thing as the indigenous people did. Although, I did think what if they constantly supplied the people with buckets of gold would that have been better. It would have increased their well being but then I immediately thought what a home means. Truthfully, it’s something that can’t simply be replaced. It’s like having your house burnt down or constantly being in risk of natural disaster but still rebuilding. The land was something special, it was home to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, and simply to some, it was all they had.

    As far as pushing the people off the land and having a price on the land, I don’t necessarily think it is strictly a capitalistic thing because we have seen these things happen in other places as well.

    • Thanks for your comment, Christopher. The thing is that capitalism defines itself according to private ownership, which is why there is such political outcry over protecting the commons in our system (folks don’t want their private property rights infringed on– even if those rights entail things like polluting parts of their property that then go onto other lands).
      A central part of the capitalist system is pricing everything. Incidentally, there was private property in indigenous societies, consisting of dreams, visions, songs, stories, etc. But the natural world was not for private ownership. By contrast, we have private property, but we legitimate personal experience– such as calling some of it “real” and “unreal”. This kind of thing would be considered an ultimate form of personal violation among the traditions of those whom I worked with.
      I absolutely agree with you about education; that is one reason why it was so egregious that eleven (Republican) senators stopped passage of the Disclosure Act, which would do not more than make it a matter of public record who paid for which political campaign ad in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing unlimited campaign funding on the part of corporations.

  97. After reading this article, I became angry and thought about how often it is that money and greed by capitalistic people allows us to set prices for things that are priceless. This started no doubt with land on this country, land that lived and served an entire nation that existed before any of us white settlers came along.

    Reading about the response by Ford toward its Pinto tank didn’t surprise me. I never knew how they addressed the Pinto problem, but only remember as a child hearing about the deaths caused by it. I remember Ford eventually phasing the Pinto out of production after eleven years of increasingly dismal sales. In our capitalism-first society, sales dropped more than likely because it was a freaking ugly car that no one wanted to be seen driving than because it was unsafe.

    The fact that devaluing life in lieu of greed hasn’t changed much is clearer to me now than it ever was(let’s look at the delays in BPs response to their oil leak, Toyota’s response to their out of control accelleration problems, all motor companies in response to rapidly making more environmentally friendly vehicles in response to oil companies, their profit margins, and the oil crises/costs for consumers and so on). In fact, I find capitalism and its “pricing everything” even worse now than it likely was in 1978.

    Even a credit card commercial today can indicate that it recognizes what is priceless, but present it in such a way as to say “you can share these culturally recognized pricelessly wonderful family times together if you use your Mastercard to pay for it.”

    The fact that capitalism still comes first in determining value of life does actually surprise me since I would think most people like myself would read Ford’s 1978 response to their Pinto now and say, “how dare Ford put an actual monetary value on human life!” These same people should be seeing land as life and should therefore be equally alarmed to the exploitation and waste of land today.

    • I agree with you, Odhran, anger seems like quite an appropriate response to the pricing of life–as we are continuing to do. Check out Mark MacNeil’s link to the interview around pricing the wildlife deaths resulting from the BP oil spill, which perhaps we might not have had had we not valued profit so highly that we excused this company from developing an emergency plan to take of accidents.

  98. After reading this article, I could help to feel bad about how the Native people were treated. They were on the American land far longer than anybody else, and because of roaming and people trying to take over things that are not theirs made me feel upset. They took better care of our land then we were capable of. They only took what they need when now we just take and take and take just to simply benefit ourselves.

    • This is a history it is appropriate to feel upset about, Jessica. My hope is that we can all learn from it so as to avoid repeating such destructive actions in the future.

  99. Indigenous peoples know how priceless our world is and it cannot be exchanged. In fact, a lot of it can’t even be replaced from what we destroyed. As Westerners, we don’t have the understanding that the indigenous people developed over tens of thousands of years, so it’s ignorant that we treat our land this way. Like it was mentioned in the essay, we even put prices on human lives, so we obviously won’t have any disregard for exchanging land, or substituting natural product for plastics and so on. It is just like the concept of circular time; eventually all these exchanges will come full circle and we are trading our health, well being, and sustainability with the earth with decisions we are making in the present.

    • I like your perspective, Kyle. When we price things, we tend to be careless with them– and linear time plays into this as we think we can leave our past and the consequences of our actions behind. Pricing any life (human or otherwise) is untenable.

  100. Reviewing the principle of placing value upon something such as land which can be seen as in-valuable has presented an interesting contrast to the how I normally view the world. I know I am highly influenced by the western mind-set which says that the land is ours to own, divide, and sell. The concept that land can never truly be “owned” has always been at the back of my mind but it is shocking to realize how much of the world we may see as having a price tag upon it. A great point brought up in this essay is the concept of placing a price on human life as well. It is interesting that the concept of placing a price on our environment is not as hard for me to understand as placing a price on another life; even though it can be proved that our natural world is just as alive as any of us. Even more, I personally am the type to fully believe that we cannot put a price on life. It is similar to a point I made in a separate post where we can place an “acceptable” level for pollutants we release. The value or the levels is completely arbitrary. It is amazing to see how powerful the western worldview is when I see myself understanding the concrete fact that you cannot place a value on life, yet am fully involved in capital dealings that include exchanging what has been shown to me as lifeless and arbitrarily valuable.

    • Thanks for sharing this thoughtful introspection here, Mathew. We are embedded in this culture and worldview at the same time that something within us might tug us in a different direction. I appreciate the critical thinking.

  101. First, thanks for including all the links to additional information. Some of this stuff is not really on the cultural radar, so its nice to have some background.
    One of the most thought-provoking ideas of this article was that a priced item is a devalued item: “it can be bought.” The central impulse of capitalism is this incessant assigning of value, even when value cannot be calculated in solely economic terms. There seems to be a lot of attempts to assign economic value to nature lately. On the one hand, organizations are trying to raise awareness of the services that a healthy planet provides in an attempt to get others to recognize nature’s inherent value. However, this just reinforces the view of nature as a sort of mechanistic resource-producer instead of our spiritual kin, as many indigenous groups believe it to be. An example of this may be the popularity of “carbon off-set” organizations. Simply pay a fee, thus placing an economic value on the damage your lifestyle is doing to the environment, and they will plant some trees and clear your conscience. This type of thing does have a role to play, and lots of different types of efforts can be helpful in restoring a balance between resource availability and consumption. However, I’m worried that some of these companies will function more as money-makers than as truly revolutionary organizations.

    • Thoughtful perspective here, Tivey. On the one hand, in an economy which prices everything, it is important that we show the actual prices on things like ecosystem services– or toxics clean up or health costs of using pesticides. On the other hand, there is that way in which the very impulse to price things objectifies the living world we depend on. Thanks for your comment.

  102. The fallacy in the logic of “I moved all the way to the East Coast, why can’t you move just a little ways” is mind boggling to me. He probably left the east coast because he had little to no opportunities, it was over crowded, and too expensive. His generational roots in the east coast were probably between 1-4 generations as well. So trying to convey this message of how much he uprooted his life to move to a people who only knew one land for their entire history is laughable at best. The discussion about plastics is a little scary, I had no idea about the floating ocean of trash, or the fact that part of my body is plastic…and I say that as I drink out of a plastic water bottle. The expansion of technology will always have unexpected and possibly horrible consequences down the road (Y2K hysteria anyone?), at the same time, human society I think needs to keep pushing the boundaries of science because with all the bad, there has been more good (antibiotics, anti-septic off the top of my head).

    • Balance is an important issues here, Kamran. To push the boundaries of discovery, it is not necessary (or we are in trouble) to destroy the world around us. The precautionary principle addresses the issue of unexpected consequences– an essential one indeed. And what antibiotics are doing at present (since we are so misusing them by feeding 70 per cent of them to healthy livestock to increase speed of weight gain) is breeding super-bugs (see the “keep antibiotics working site here). And there are several municipalities in the US and abroad (and at least one country) that have outlawed plastic water bottles entirely. Bringing along a cup/bottle that is reused time and again works just as well (though you have to think of it–and we are used to the convenience of not thinking– a luxury we cannot afford forever).
      Thanks for your comment!

  103. I had never thought of this subject in this way. I know about the Round up ready crops and honestly the fact that food can be changed and someone can “own” it scares me. Because those seeds can spread for miles and then more miles… and then eventually they will be blown all over the earth and then Monsanto will own ALL of the soybeans in the world. What else will they start allowing companies to own?
    Knowing that my body has a certain amount of plastic in it makes me feel bad. I try very hard to take care of myself and watch what I put into my body but there is nothing I can do to control some of the substances that have become part of me. And that is a very scary thought. Breast milk has become so toxin that there is controversy over whether or not its healthier to breast feed to bottle feed out of a BPA filled water bottle, that is so sad. Are bodies are filling with toxins that we put out into the earth.

    • Thanks for your comment, Briana. I think there are two fronts on which we must put our environmental values into play: the first is the one of personal choices– the level at which you are working to take care of yourself. This is very important, both because our individual actions accumulate and because our actions are models for others. But the other level is the social/political one. We cannot, clean up the breast milk supply without the kind of political effort Sweden put into it by outlawing certain toxins in their environment.

  104. This article is really good. Its sad how when whites settled the land that they could not live in peace with the Native Americans but had to kick them off there land. It’s sad when you hear things like “They could not make him understand that his plan to remove them from their homeland was unacceptable, since nothing could replace their land for them.” The land to the Native Americans was sacred and held spirits that were of great importance. And then the whites came in and thought that they could either force the Natives off their land or buy the land from them.

    The statement that is mentioned above that the art of thinking that everything can be exchanged for something else, needs to change. There are just some things on this Earth that can not be exchanged and humans don’t seem to always get that concept. I really like the sentence “The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high– it is devalued. For then it can be bought.” Because it is so true, we seem to think that everything can be bought for a price, and it really is devaluing nature. Nature was put here for its own purpose, not the purpose to serve humans.

    • Thanks for your kind feedback, Ayla. Good perspective about value and valuing; even if we cannot understand the value that another sets on something that cannot be bought, we should not undercut their feelings about this.

  105. This is a very interesting story and highlights the differing values of domination and objectification held by Stevens and natural reverence of nature by the indigenous peoples. I’m not sure that it particularly surprised me, though it does highlight the differing notions of “value” amongst people. I think the article did a good job of pointing out these differences in a coherent and informing way.

  106. It is amazing to me that the “developed” world tries so hard and expanding its knowledge and making life easier and better, but this development has made problems (diseases,pollutant, etc.) for man that never whould have been an issue if we had just been content. If man had just been a part of the whole rather trying to lead the whole, the natural world might be better sustainable than it is today. Plastics may have saved the average man time and money, it has also cost man an unknown percentage of their health ( not to mention the cost to the flora and fauna).

    • Good perspective, Jessika. We should evaluate (as you suggest) what we have really gained in progress– and find ways not to sabotage it, as we are doing in our use of antibiotics (see the “keep antibiotics working” link here).

  107. Professor Holdren,

    I am in total agreement that people who have only been on a land one generation can’t fully appreciate what that land would mean to someone who had buried many generations of ancestors there. This lack of understanding is a major reason why I believe that the settlers, and people today, will buy and sell land as quickly as the market allows for them to turn a profit. It isn’t about love of the land or a connection to it, it is only about making a quick buck! It is sad that more people won’t open their eyes and fully appreciate a piece of nature before they sell, destroy or alter it.

    • This kind of behavior is sad indeed, both for the land and for those, as you note, who never really see it–for what they are missing is certainly one of those priceless items that might satisfy them more than the turning of a quick buck. Thanks for your comment, Kurt.

  108. What a sad story. I can almost feel the native people’s pain when I read about what happened in the past. How horrible that they were essentially given no choice. What made the pioneers so certain that their worldview was the correct one? I can’t believe that every nonnative settler on this continent agreed with the atrocious treatment of the native inhabitants. To them, losing their land must have felt as painful as losing a family member or a dear friend. I too feel a connection with the earth in many areas, and could not imagine being forced to give up those treasured, special areas for ones that meant nothing to me.

    The point that our bodies are also “carefully calibrated natural systems” is one that I think most Americans miss. It sure would be convenient if we could replace certain things with others without consequence, but the world just doesn’t function that way. This makes me think of Splenda and other artificial sweetners; how can we have any idea what this will do to our bodies? There’s a reason that it doesn’t exist in our natural diets. Nature is highly selective for very important reasons.

    • Hi Allison,

      I feel as you do, that of course there must have been nonnative settlers who disagreed with the appropriation of the indigenous peoples’ lands. Your statement goes directly to what I was saying in an earlier post about seeking a balanced perspective on these difficult issues. I suppose the important thing here is that the government presented a united front in their intention to steal the native lands from those who were here before us, but I also appreciate hearing about instances when the white settlers (even if just as individuals) were more sensitive to what was going on.

      • There were certainly settlers that sided with native peoples on this issue, Barbara– though might well suffer for it, as in the case of the pioneer who was run out of town for publishing tracts supporting the rights of the Rogue River people.
        The distinction between early and later settlers is also important, since after native peoples were moved to reservations, there was hardly any chance to experience their former lives–and certainly, later pioneers no longer depended on them as they did in earlier times. See this essay, for instance, which I like to put up again around Thanksgiving time:
        In fact the “faraway” government in Washington D. C. sometimes worked against pioneer interests as well, as in the case in Washington Territory, when Stevens rounded up pioneers and placed them under garrison arrest (while his soldiers “harvested” their fields) for sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their indigenous neighbors. Stevens was very much afraid of collusion between pioneers and indigenous peoples. (Those were, incidentally, self-termed “old settlers” on Puget Sound, who arrived at a time immigrants where wholly dependent on their native neighbors for survival).

    • I completely agree that most people of the world, not just American’s miss the idea that our bodies are specialized systems that require certain things to keep in sync. The idea of simplicity is what dominates us. “Why put this in when this is just as good?” Or, “This has the same effect.” Are both examples of us taking the easy way out. It will be interesting to see what kinds of effects that couldn’t be predicted today will have on us in several generations.

  109. I think that the mindset that the natives have about their land and that it is truly irreplaceable is admirable. They love their land, and when you love something, you don’t just trade it away. I got really corny with my boyfriend the other night and I told him I would never give him up even if someone gave me a billion dollars! I would say the same about my pets, my family members, and my most memorable memories. The point being, when you truly care about and believe in something, you can’t just give it away. Nothing replaces the thing you love and nurture the most. This “thing” that you love can be land, a person, an item, It doesn’t matter what it is. What is important however, is understanding that no one should have to be bribed to give that “thing” up.

    That must have been humiliating for the natives to have someone actually think that their land was worthless and could be traded for any other. It is very sad that the Governor could not understand their point of view. To me, his lack of knowledge involving others views and cultures is immature, embarrassing, and greedy. To think that you can just pay off anybody to get what you want is unacceptable. Especially because this was their home.

    I don’t think it would be fair to say that everyone should agree with different viewpoints, because it certainly isn’t fair or realistic. But every viewpoint and concern should be acknowledged, heard, and considered at a deep level. They shouldn’t be ignored just because someone doesn’t understand what they mean. I believe that If something that seems important to an individual isn’t coming across as important to you, you should make an effort to understand why they believe it is so important.

    • Hi Hana, thanks for sharing the list of things in your own life that you aren’t willing to “give away”– and the strong ethical statement that no one should be “bribed” to give away the things of such value in their lives.
      Great point on understanding other viewpoints– even though may not agree with. I like your statement that lack of understanding a stance that someone obviously cares deeply about should motivate those listening to them to “make an effort to understand why they believe it is so important.”

    • I can only imagine how humiliating and disrespected the natives felt to see their precious land abused my “settlers.” Unfortunately, many people in power in the past and in the present think that paying off people will make up for mistakes and losses that are irreplaceable. I also agrtee that every single viewpoint should be considered; isn’t our country supposed to be a democracy where everyone has a chance to voice their opinions?

    • I think your post really got to the heart of the article, especially when I think about the things and people I love, and how they are not replaceable and cannot be traded, nor could I choose between them.

    • I think you have a really good point. Your thoughts on this article are very sincere and well said.

      When it comes to people not understanding others viewpoints it is really sad. People have done this throughout history and continue to do this today. Just because you dont understand what other people see does not mean that what they believe in is wrong. Every person should have the right to show their side of things and have an effort to be made to understand what they believe in.

  110. These recollections about what to the Native Americans really upsets me. How could anyone force people off land where they have been for 100’s of years? We need to start thinking in the mind set of the Native Americans if we want to better ourselves as a whole. If we start taking care of the planet and one another the world would be a much better place. Pay respect to where respect is due.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kim. This historical dynamic created a loss for all concerned.
      You have brought up the important issue of respect before.
      How might we value the natural world and other things we care about beyond the idea of pricing it?

    • Relocation of indigenous (and non-indigenous) people has occured in more than Native Americans. For example, during World War II, the US relocated thousands of Asian-American’s during the war time effort to prevent spying. They were offered no permanent homestead, but rather to pack a single suitcase and leave everything else behind. Relocations are a very abrasive part of our history, but it is important to note that it has occured more than once.

      • The relocation of the Japanese in World War II is a tragedy indeed, Andrew. Not incidentally, the rich lands that these people farmed were often take over by others in their absence. The exception was the case of Bainbridge Island, Washington, where local residents kept the lands and belongings of the relocated Japanese families safe and returned them at a welcome home party as they greeted them at the docks when they were released. There is a moving song based on this incident written by Linda Allen during her stint as “songwriter laureate” of Washington State: “Executive Order 9066”– sometimes oral tradition is passed through music as well as stories. Check it out.

    • I agree that we must start prioritizing the envioronment, and treat it as Native Americans do and have. They preserved their land for thousands of years, and feel that their land is a part of them spiritually, and to see it taken from them is very sad.

  111. This may seem a bit off-topic from the main theme of this essay, but something you wrote started me thinking about something else all together, and I’d like to comment on that. You speak in this essay about the European Union creating the REACH program to regulate the “creation and use of human-created chemicals.” In many ways, the Europeans are ahead of us in environmental awareness issues.

    We predominantly came from European stock, from people who had heavily inhabited the European continent before coming to the U.S. Resources had been in use and the land was being polluted – it was not the pristine landscape the Europeans encountered upon settling in North America. And what did they do upon their arrival? They conquered the indigenous people, robbed them of their ancestral lands and immediately start raping and pillaging the environment. Living conditions in many of the European cities were horrible at best – no hygiene, overcrowding, disease, with sewage flowing through the streets. Were they just like a bunch of kids in a candy store, all running amok with the intoxication that came from seeing all those untouched natural resources just ripe for the taking? And now, a few hundred years later, we (their descendents) are beginning to realize what we’ve done, and the Europeans are out front and looking very progressive on issues of environmental importance, to the point where we are asking ourselves, “how we can be more like them?” Seems ironic to me.

    • Thoughtful response: I think that part of the answer (though this is still something to consider) is that Europe has a profound sense of geographical limits and pluralism (hardly anyone speaks only one language) and and also a more developed sense of and respect for history and tradition.
      Thanks for your comment.

  112. I find it so funny that the Washington territorial governor, Isaac Stevens, blamed the native peoples of stubbornness toward authority when the idea of authority probably wasn’t ever in question. Heck, the natives didn’t feel authority over the land they’d lived off let alone this mans title. It’s sad that industry usually doesn’t recognize the difference between a natural wetland and there ability to produce a man made one. The native peoples described there sense of “belonging” to the land and how its part of them as much as they are part of it. I understand and plan on associating this view to patterns in my own life but this present industrial view of placing a monetary value on everything is a disaster. It’s a very scary thought to take in when an insurance company can decide what your or your loved ones life is worth. This topic is one I’m very close too and work with on a daily basis as a vocational counselor. The complexity involved with changing this ideology is almost too much to comprehend especially because we’ve created an entire legal system that promotes such views.

    I have to mention that I hadn’t read about the giant floating garbage dump but it just goes to show you were the wealthy put priority because this is the stuff that rarely makes the news. Another display of an economic system which doesn’t promote the natural model of reciprocity.

    • Interesting point about the relationship to authority, Ryan. We might also ask by what right Stevens felt he might exercise authority over these people.
      But it is something to consider: the type of “authority” that assumes the right to price everything–and then buy or sell it.
      I can imagine that your work puts you squarely in the middle of the dilemma of many of us: we need to work to make a living, but this too often means giving our (priceless) lives over to something from which we are alienated.
      Thanks for your comment.

  113. Attitudes towards Indigenous people have always been at a sub-par level. This essay highlights that in describing the manner in which the Washington Territrioal Governor treated the Indigenous Indian tribes of the area. One piece of land is not the same as another. It was irresponsible to falsely assume that an entire population could be picked up and relocated to an area that was more convenient for you (not them).

  114. Assigning a value to a noun is what we have done. We have categorized everything, put it in its place, and put a price tag on it. Dividing things and studying them on an individual level is useful to a point, but to really know something, we have to understand it as part of a whole. Therefore, how can we assign value to one part, without taking into account the entirety of life and Earth systems? This is our problem. Perhaps breaking things down and studying them atom by atom was useful to a point; it was useful for helping us understand that everything is ultimately and inextricably connected. One gene in a set affects the function of the other genes around it. Cells become what they are based on where they are located and the other cells surrounding them. Each and every little part affects the whole. There is no separating; there is no assigning value to this part or that part.

    • It is indeed simply valuing a figure of speech to “price” things in this way, Michele. Good insight along with the fact that we such pricing also means partitioning (as well as abstracting) our world. We have found, as you indicate, this does not work in the context of our current knowledge–anymore than it works to say the atom is the basis of all “things”– or that matter and energy are separate from one another. Thanks for your comment.

  115. The atrocities committed during the western US’s colonization are shocking. It is interesting, though, this notion of substitution to try to make something “equal.”

    While not on the same level at all as what the natives endured, it is somewhat similar. My dad recently lost his beloved dog Clarence, suddenly. Clarence was a big, hefty black lab. My dad was so sick with sadness at his loss that my dad sought out a breeder that had a puppy that was going to be stout like Clarence was, to replace him, to console himself.

    I kept trying to remind my dad that he couldn’t replace Clarence and that Clarence was gone and okay now. That dad should be focusing on the other animals that need homes, but my dad was grief stricken and tried to substitute another dog into Clarence’s place, to fill that void.

    It did not work and Carson is a completely different dog than Clarence was (of course he is, he has a different soul altogether than Clarence). My dad loves Carson and enjoys his “buddy,” but he has come to realize that he has to just treasure the memories he had and that substituting and replacing priceless things and people is not possible. Carson is a wonderful, sweet dog and I am glad he has a home amongst the other animals at my mom and dad’s home (all of which were rescued, save for Carson), but I am more glad that dad saw the priceless and irreplaceable nature of things like our beloved companions, and things like a home.

    • Thanks for sharing this personal experience about the irreplaceability of a living creature. Knowing one needs consolation is of course a very different thing from trying to replace one animal with another. I’m glad Carson found an obviously great home with your dad.

    • This is a great example of something that cannot be replaced and I feel like it ties in great with what was being discussed. Things we love, appreciate and hold sacred to us are irreplaceable- Just like these lands and the area to the indigenous people.It has no value and you cannot assign it. I love that you shared this. It really means a lot.

      • Thank you, Tayler. I think we might all consider what we value in this way–and what we therefore have a right to care about and hold to us beyond any monetary compensation.

  116. I think the author makes an excellent point in this article, as Indians lived in the Pacific Northwest for tens of thousands of years, and once a value was placed on their land, it was immediately devalued. We can no longer accept trade for sacred land. It is sad how men like Stevens try to exploit these Indians by promising them money and other goods. When they refused to move, Stevens even complained and called them stubborn. To me that is ridiculous, because the Indians that live in the region have every right to want to keep their land. They respect the land and have preserved it for generations, and men like Stevens only see dollar signs when they try to bribe the natives. This article upsets me, as we should learn from the Indian values of nature, and not replace them.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kyle–and your personal engagement with this issue. Placing a numerical value on something is indeed, as you note, “devaluing it”– and by devaluing the land we devalue the source of our lives–as well as those who have made their home on this land for so many generations.

  117. This article is extremely important and i feel only touches the tip of this issue. There are so many things that have been brought into the commercial world, as the human market expands, that are not safe for anyone. I have done a lot of studying on these issues and try my hardest to not use these products as well as inform others of there dangerous aspects in our world. For example the water bottle issue, as you had brought up these plastics are being broken down by the sun but only to really small pieces. These pieces of plastic are then eaten by plankton and then eaten by fish, and continually down the food chain, until they reach our bodies again. The huge deal with this is the original negative effects are only made bigger by this thing called biomagnification.

    I once told this information to someone, after i had learned it, when they were buying a pack of water bottles from the store. They though about it then looked at the sale price of $2.49 and shrugged their shoulders and put it in their cart. They felt this cheap price was worth it.

    It is really sad that people have this view on things and i hope people wake up someday and realize, its not that hard to get a glass of water from your tap..

    • Congratulations on being an informed consumer, Jason–hard as that is in an economy which obscures the sources of so much of what we buy. I am heartened by those who (some of them linked under “consumer info” here) work to make such information publicly available and easily accessible.
      The “bargain” in your example makes the point that this is a poor bargain indeed!

    • I agree with you Jason that it is sad when people make choices based on short term thinking and cheap prices.

      If we really included the true “long-term” cost of many of the low cost items we buy everyday the prices would be much higher. Unfortunately, many companies do a pretty good job making sure that the average consumer doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the long-term consequences of consuming their products.

  118. The part of this article that really caught my attention is the statement by government agent Joel Palmer at the Walla Walla treaty negotiations. Palmer tried to make the argument that because he traveled all the way across the country to Washington for his own good, the indigenous people of the area would be fine if they moved a shorter distance onto new lands.

    Palmer’s argument is just so faulty I had to laugh.
    It would be like me walking all the way to the opposite side of the city where I live, knocking on someone’s door and telling them that since I walked all this way they should give me their house because it would make me better off. In return, I would then tell them, it wouldn’t be too much to for them to go live in a dingy apartment I found for them.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t matter how good Palmer’s argument was because he had the US government and military backing him up to force the indigenous people to move if needed.

    • I had a good laugh over your analogy, Darcy. Thanks for making this point crystal clear.
      You are right about the military force to provide for lacks in the bad argument. Surely we cannot afford neither such foolishness nor such injustice anymore.

  119. I agree with this article on so many points. First of all, I currently live in the state of Hawaii and have first hand knowledge of the difficulties and anger the Native peoples have of being displaced and having their land taken from them. There are so many songs and organizations dedicated to the hurt and loss people feel of knowing that the island used to belong to everyone, and now it mostly belongs to rich people who moved here from other countries and gave money to royalty now long dead in exchange for the land that belonged to the people.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with the issues as it concerns food modification. There are so many things being done to our food today and the consequences are only becoming more and more clear. Because of the rise of illnesses in the United States and our nation’s problems with obesity – which partly stem from having an uninformed, detached relationship with the food they eat and the land that produces it – kids growing up today actually have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Many things are sacrificed when land is parceled out to the highest bidder, but I feel as though what is sacrificed when we allow our land and its production of our food to be treated as the newest form of industrial revolution is one of the worst.

    • Thanks for sharing your local experience reflecting this global issue, Roman. I don’t know the history of Hawaii in this respect, but if the treaties made with indigenous Northwesterners is any indication, it is unlikely that those lands were bought with any true knowledge or choice on the part of those who sold them. In Washington and Oregon Territories, Governor Stevens (following the precedent of other pioneers) actually allocated to particular individuals (not chosen by local peoples) the power to “represent” them and sell their land.
      Seeing food modification as part of the “industrial revolution” indeed has the dangers that you indicate.

  120. This article saddens me and reminds that our local, state, and national leaders, as well as, corporations are on different thinking planes with indigenous peoples. They gap of understanding seems to be very wide. It is sad that there is a lack of understanding regarding the fact that our earth and nature is alive with it’s own living spirit. We, as human beings, are directly connected with this spirit. When we disrupt our land and the creatures that reside on it, we essentially affect ourselves as people. This distruction of our land and it’s people is all for the old mighty dollar sign. Our land is priceless, but industry and corporations wants to put a price on our destiny and the life taht exists on it that includes humans and non-humans.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal stance on this, Elizabeth. I agree with you. I am very concerned about the recent Supreme Court decision that gave more power to money in the campaign arena. I think we must respond with refusing to “buy” such candidates– just as we must refuse to price the land– or our own time on this earth, for that matter.

  121. I think the tug of war between those who love the land and want to preserve it compared to those who want to uses it for consumption is especially encumbersome and even more so to the land that we live on. To realize that the earth is becoming a wasteland of human technology is a sad result of the industrial revolution. As humans, we are accountable to all beings living in this world and I think we really need to find other methods in preserving the only world that sustains us. Recycling and using cloth bags to deter plastics from overrunning our world is only the beginning. I think human ingenuity needs to come up with new ways of preventing further harm to this planet.

    • I like your point that we are accountable for the effects of our actions on all living things, Tina. I cannot think of a better purpose to which to put our “human ingenuity” than caring for the planet that sustains us in such a way that your daughter begins to dream of a verdant and wonderful future!

  122. This article really made me think about the dangers of a capitalist system – and it made me wonder; have there been any American Indian or Canadian First Nations tribes that employed any sort of capitalist economy? (Without western/non-native influences.) And how do we make folks like Palmer or Stevens understand and, hopefully, even appreciate the “not-for-sale” stance that the tribes they attempted to buy out stuck to? How do we change the views of such wo/men, especially in an age where the public power and visibility of Natives and those who share their general traditional ethics regarding property seem somehow to be even more limited than they might have been when these tribes were still living on their own lands and able to assert their rights (as much as possible) as autonomous nations?

    • There were some folks in Central America that had a stratified society–but not exactly capitalism. That seems to be a peculiarly Euroamerican invention–and you are right about its dangers, as we are seeing.
      What answers would you propose to your own questions here? Any ideas?

  123. This is a very scary thought..that humans now contain a percentage of plastic?! That is NOT GOOD! I am very alarmed by this and the fact that the genetically altered foods are also causing genetic issues. Is all of this really worth the money it is saving? I can’t believe the loss of values and moral standing that this (country? culture? world? where does it end?). The fact that Ford did not think it would be cost efficient to save people? It is outraging. I was reading an article in “Readers Digest” and it talked about a fire dept. who refused to assist with a home fire because the owners had not payed the local fee. Their 4 pets died inside and they lost their house while the firemen watched because they hadn’t paid the $75 fee. They even tried to pay it then but were refused. This is the type of inhuman behavior that has become normal, how very sad.

    • I am with you both on the questionable effects of carrying around this plastic inside of us and of genetic engineering.
      And actually, gmos haven’t come through on their promise to extend yields (see the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, “Failure to Yield”)– and as for saving money, they are costing money for the farmer but making money for the biotech industry.
      I am with you on the fact that these examples of money first– including the one you cite– are outrageous, Samantha. Thanks for your comment.

    • Mmm plastic, yummy. Have you ever ate something by accident that still had the wrapper on without even thinking or at least put it in your mouth? I know I have. Everything seems to always come down to money and saving it or making things more cost efficient. Why not make the cost efficient things more affordable?

    • I have the same questions about GMO’s. I kind of feel like this could be an episode of Star Trek where a civilization who is just learning science begins messing around with things they do not yet understand.

      Its baffling that we would sell our health, natural wonders, and planet for a quick buck. Speaking of which, money is something that we created and currently I don’t even see my money- get directly deposited into my bank account and my bills come out electronically. All the importance we place on our monetary system and its almost like its imaginary. Priorities indeed.

      • Great perspective, Tiffany. There is a way in which our monetary system is imaginary– or at least only symbolic.The problem is that we have made it the only currency for so many things necessary to life that we forget the importance of those other things like, as you say, “health, natural wonders” and even the planet itself.

  124. The fact that everything has come down to every last penny can really be discerning because money and money saving is put first before anything else. Seems as though money is more important than that of our health. Paying insurance companies a ton of money monthly and doctors as well to get the healthcare that we need because of plastic or stuff that is made more available to us because of the fact that it is cost efficient is the worst thing that could ever come about. Here’s some cigarettes smoke them then get cancer and pay even more money to get better. Let me sell you something that is bad for you so that you can spend more money in the long run. Is this really what the cycle of life has turned into? We keep putting money where it isn’t necessary. Let us get rid of the bad and make the more expensive things more affordable so that we aren’t ruining our health.

    • I think we need a clear criteria for what we value in other than monetary terms, Jennifer. Surely our health is part of this. And it is also true that chemical and pharmaceutical companies have some economic cross-ties so that those who make us sick (according the most recent President’s Panel on Cancer, environmental toxins are the most serious cause of cancer in the US), also profit by selling us the “cure” for our suffering, although the real cure would be cleaning our environment and prohibiting such chemical release in the first place.

  125. So I am drawing a parallel between the early treaty process and plastics. I can see it. I hope I am not that far off. Even though they claim to change things with plastics, we are always going to have problems with plastics, because it is a good thing. Just like the treaties, the government tried and tried to assure that moving to the reservation was a good thing. Try to find glass storage containers they all have plastics lids.

    • Can you say a bit more about the connection you are drawing here, Bob?
      On what grounds are they related?

      • I guess the connection is how we know that plastics, while they play their roll in todays world, are bad for the environment and us. Just like the treaties were sold to the Native Americans as a good thing, but they wern’t. Did it save them from possible extermination? I would say yes. Just like a plastics in an IV set could save our lives.

  126. It is not surprising to learn that Gov. Stevens didn’t understand why the original people of his “state” did not want to leave their homes. He didn’t understand the basis of their worldview, their “gift economy” wherein things, food, shelter and aid were given freely and not expected to be returned, though, of course, within their societies, everything was eventually returned to the giver. Land, of course, never entered into their transactions, as they felt it was as much a part of them as they were of it. Modern worldviews place a value on everything from medicine to morals. Yes even morals have a monetary value when a person’s nighttime “services” can be bought. As the Northwestern locals proved by giving aid to some of the pioneers, they valued human life over possession. They were willing to share the land because they didn’t feel they were selling or giving anything away, the land was there to care for all, as they cared for it.

    • You have a powerful point seconded by indigenous commentators on early pioneers, Reb, that those who belong to the land also understand ethical relationships with other humans– and more than human lives as well. That is, our sense of deep belonging brings a value to our lives that is priceless.

    • I like your point about caring for the land. The indigenous populations viewed themselves as stewards of the land, not owners as we do. We may cut the grass or ‘protect’ our land today, but when it comes down to it, I think we all have a price in the back of our minds that we would sell for and retire! Land seems to be an ever increasing part of our transactions as you point out…I can’t think of anyone I know who wouldn’t like to own more land, property, or homes.

      • I think we might reevaluate our notions of “ownership”– I do know some whose care for the land is not bond up in price tags–and we will need many more of them if we are to protect the commons which supports our lives. Thanks for your comment, Brad.

  127. The idea that we all contain a certain percentage of plastic scares me but does not really surprise me! This example shows that even though our garbage is out of sight, it is never really ‘done’ with us because eventually it can come back through the interconnectedness of the environment to impact us later! I like the use of “mitigation” in this article because it explains how we think of things today…if we want to destroy a natural ecosystem, we must make an attempt to ‘make’ one somewhere else to balance things out. This idea is funny and sad at every level because we are still pricing land, and even pricing destruction of the environment. The article points out that the Walla Walla treaty tried to move people to a different land which promised a better life, but again it goes to the point of our misguided idea of price for things that have no price to the indigenous population. I think about nature preserves which are set up, then over time are challenged by different interests in order to develop these areas. Although there may not be a monetary price today, a little work, a little lobbying may lead to a little development later if the ‘price’ is right, and the demand is high. The principles are the problem here because we do not have any connection to land or natural environments.

    • Yes: there is no “away” to which to dispose of our garbage. So the next best thing is to make sure our own garbage is food for other lives: if we have to ingest it, we might as well ingest it as something like fruit from an apple tree fed from the compost of our leavings. That is how natural cycles work: food for some makes waste for them which in turn is food for others.
      The trouble is that we have created things like plastic that do not fit this cycle.
      I agree with your sense that we cannot– or should not– put a price on pollution or habitat destruction that allows us to pay for it. That is the same problem I see with carbon trading: seems to me better just not to produce so much of the stuff.
      Your statement about the “price” being right reminds me of how much we leave out of pricing when it comes to ecosystem services, which one study (Costanza’s) priced at 33 trillion dollars. And I don’t think, corporate ledgers to the contrary, there is price we can set on our lives or the health of ourselves and our families.

  128. The USDA is currently attempting to further deregulate genetic modification, with support from Monsanto, and until very recently, Whole Foods, proposing a “let’s all get along” attitude about genetically altered food. It’s one thing to choose to use certain seeds over others, and guide natural selection toward a desired condition without wholesale control over every gene to the point that we assume hubristic knowledge translating to a presumed ability to make whatever we want of the world without consequences. “Pricing the priceless” always gives me cause to wonder about the danger of quantifying ecosystem services.

    • Yes: the notes you have here were part of a recent “action alert of the week” on this site (see past action alerts for outline) — to protest the potential for gmos to be part of the federally approved “organic standards”.
      I agree that we should not quantify ecosystem services, especially given the fact that when we have decided to price them in the past, we have left out a good deal of their value– or basically given them away in the “externalizing costs and internalizing benefits” approach that is the capitalist economic standard.
      Thanks for your comment.

  129. As I read this article, I couldn’t help but to formulate the question as to how one determines the price of something like a piece of land, an animal or a life anyway? I then hit the portion of the article pertaining to the Pinto gas tank, the EPA and the percentage of our bodies that are comprised of plastic and I was absolutely appalled! For every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction, and that helps to reaffirm the notion that everything is equally reliant upon one another. Therefore nothing can be better, or worse, than anything else. One also cannot simply replace something with another thing and expect the results to be the same. If you had five pounds of gold, and traded that five pounds for silver, you now own silver, not gold. No matter what chemical reaction you perform, no matter what state that silver is placed in, it will always be silver. Therefore, how can one say that what they had was equal to gold? This concept can be applied towards the concept of trading something like land for money. If you tear down a patch of forest in one area and say that you will construct a forest of equal size in another area, how can you say that you have had an equal exchange? In addition, we are only harming ourselves, as well as the environment, by thinking in such a manner. Some aspects of our environment are irreplaceable and our actions are causing damages to communities that will cost more than money can buy.

    • Thoughtful points about irreplaceability, Jennifer. I think we might consider what we teach our children about their own worth by implication when we behave as if every life in the world can be so easily exchanged for something else.

  130. I believe that achieving the ‘priceless’ mentality on the natural world is critical. However, with the current capitalistic mentality that’s prevalent worldwide, I believe that we must first begin with a price to change people’s opinions and then move toward that ‘priceless’ worldview. In effect, we would be heading in the opposite direction to start but coming full-circle.

    With money being the current leading motivator, I believe that by placing the true cost on every natural resource that is used, people will better understand their usage habits and realize how much they have taken for granted. Resources such as water, trees, air, petroleum, metals and soil would all have a true price to include the ultimate cost, including the effects of pollution, erosion, deforestation, mining and the social ramifications in the destruction of the earth. The true cost of these resources would naturally exceed the cost of sustainable methods; currently, the cost of most goods doesn’t reflect the usage of many natural resources and/or they are subsidized. By creating the understanding and the change in industrial practice, there could be a time that we would come full-circle to view the natural world as ‘priceless’.

    • Though point about pricing natural system services with some economic value that approaches their true worth (rather than placing them in the commons and putting them up for grabs, Rory.
      I hope with you that we will someday come to understand the priceless character of the natural world that sustains our lives.

    • Rory –
      I think this is a great idea, I had not considering this before. I feel that by allowing people to really see and experience this personally, they might begin to understand it. Once it begins to effect them, they will take note. Just as you said I agree that it will take a change in industrial practices but once we as a culture see how much we use and how much we are ‘spending’ hopefully we can full come to terms with how valuable our natural resources are and stop taking them for granted.

      • I don’t think these “ecosystem services” have been priced in today’s market; however, a few years back they were priced at 33 trillion dollars annually– and the price can only have gone up from there. So we might ask why we allow certain people to pillage these at the cost of all of us.

    • I like the idea of a true cost on natural resources used. It uses money, something people understand the worth of, as a way to get the point across. It is easy to forget about or ignore the processes and costs that lead to the products you buy. For example, I read that it takes almost 2 gallons of water to make the plastic for a small individual bottle of water. And then there is the oil used to transport it (and in plastic production), everything the factories consume, and electricity of refrigeration, along with many other resources used and pollution caused.

  131. I was just talking about genetically modified seeds with a friend earlier today. He farms some land in Wisconsin and has been telling me of the problems he and some neighbors have been having with Monsanto. His seeds are heritage seeds but because of some nearby farms that use Monsanto seeds, his are becoming contaminated. It might be too late but I have read articles criticizing GMO’s by scientist to religious leader. There is very little known about the consequences. I suspect with companies like Monsanto, they probably don’t really care as long as it doesn’t affect their bottom line.

    • The actions of Monsanto indicate such carelessness (as you suggest) with tragedy consequences like the contamination of these heritage seeds– which I would call precious enough to be priceless. There is another essay here that takes on the issue of gmos–when we get to the discussion of technology. Meanwhile, you might be interested in joining the “millions against Monsanto” campaign. Contamination is a terrible tragedy, but it is never to late to stop it from spreading; the worse things get, the more we need to act to change things.
      Thanks for sharing yet another instance that indicates we should exercise extreme caution in the use of gmos.

      • There’s a “Millions against Monsanto” Facebook page on there I just read that Vanguard Investments is the fourth largest shareholder in Monsanto stock. And of course, guess where my IRA is?

        • I can’t give you investment advice, but if you switch to a socially or environmentally responsible account, be sure to let Vanguard know why you are doing that–and/or write Vanguard and tell them you are considering dropping because of their Monsanto stock. Enough shareholders of various stocks did this some years back to protect apartheid in South Africa and it made a considerable difference.
          And I also want to ask, is this a Forest Service choice? That would be another whole issue to look into.

    • The frightening thing about Monsanto is that those who are in the position of protecting our rights to healthy food (FDA,USDA,justice dept) have a financial stake in Monsanto and other chemical companies. While it may be too late to protect heritage seeds like your friends from contamination, anything we do to stop further contamination and preserve the heritage seed that remains is a priceless act.

      • You absolutely right to point out the dangers of the financial ties between Monsanto and those supposedly in the position of protecting our environment– a serious repercussion made more serious by the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of corporate “personhood”– which, by the way, the overwhelming majority of US citizens disagree with. Seems that that should count for something in a democracy!

        • I’m afraid that our representatives will be even less likley to listen to us now. We can’t compete with corporate campaign contributions. This Supreme Court Decision infuriates me, as well the infiltration of our government by these greedy CEOs – and the transfer of former government officials back to these companies. It’s a powerful little club and we aren’t members.

        • All of which are reasons that we need to join movements like to work with others to take our democracy back. These engender hope that the large majority of US citizens who disagree with the Supreme Court decision have a voice: and check out the latest video on this site about a GOP “wake up” call at recent town hall meetings– might cheer you up a bit.

  132. I appreciate the discussion of pricing the priceless. I do not believe that the current government policies towards GMO’s, plastics and other pollutants that are harming both nature and humans are due to ignorance. Just as in the shocking decisions made by Ford and the EPA which put a value on human life and determined doing the “right thing” not worth the financial cost, the government and industry are aware of the harmful affects of chemicals to all living things. What shocks me is that even though it has now become evident that continuing this destructive behavior will lead to financial harm as well, these corporations and the government are refusing to acknowledge the problem. The people making decisions seem to be so unconnected from all things that they have no concern beyond the present moment of their own isolated lives.

    • These are serious considerations, Val- since we need to change such corporate behavior which, as you indicate, has become a danger to all life. I think there is a kind of ignorance involved: that of denial that flows from segmenting themselves from the rest of the world. And you make a good point about economic folly: indeed, it seems that power is the key driver behind such destructive behavior. What heartens me is that there are those like yourself and the others writing on this forum that are enacting values that protect life rather than destroy it. I know it is a grave struggle–and the outcome is not a given, but that is all the more reason why we need one another to act in the right way.

    • I completely agree with your statement that “the people making decisions seem to be so unconnected…” because we see it in so many areas of life. I am studying to be an elementary school teacher, and have noticed with the current economic crisis that difficult decisions are being made by people who aren’t being affected by said decision. When I was younger, I thought I wanted to go into politics to “make a difference,” but realized that I would lose touch with the important parts of my field. It seems that the intentions are probably good, but the disconnect makes it near impossible to address issues so that everybody is a winner in the end.

      • Thoughtful points, Jenni. I think another central issue is that our current lobbyist structure means that many key governmental discussions and much legislation is created by those who were never elected–and are unaccountable to the voters. Local politics give you the best change to “make a difference”– and also organizations like and other citizen groups who seek to counter-balance lobbyist influence.

  133. This essay actually saddens me a little. It is so unfortunate that people can’t simply sit down and have a real conversation and attempt to see the differences in one another and their cultures. If everyone was the same, had the same beliefs, values and concerns then how boring would our world be? It is the uniqueness of each other that allows us to be such a rich melting pot of cultures. If only one another can see how we view things, such as land. The western views and indigenous views on land are so different, and we can’t seem to grasp each others views. Part of me believes it is because we aren’t trying. I can’t imagine that Isaac Stevens and Joel Palmer could see or understand the devastation that taking this land away would cause these specific indigenous groups. They didn’t understand the importance, history and significance of this particular land. I have said this before, but it comes down to respect and power. Those who have the power don’t seem to care what happens to those without authority. The ones who do have the influence and control are the ones who make the decisions and put a price on things. Just as the essay stated, “The minute one sets a price on something, no matter how high– it is devalued”. Why do we want to do this to what our country holds valuable? More importantly, who has the power to assign a price to it anyway?

    • Good points to ponder, Ellie, about authority and the pricing of these precious things that we all need in order to survive. It does devalue others to feel that we can prices what is most precious to them— as you indicate, we might ask, what gives some the right to do this? It is my sense that there ought to be certain things that are set aside from the economic realm–and other people’s lives ought to part of this set aside. Thanks for your comment.

  134. I don’t personally feel attached to any land and the idea is difficult for me to grasp. In trying to think of something that is priceless and irreplaceable, to compare to indigenous cultures’ feelings of the land, my family comes to mind. There is nothing anyone could offer me in exchange for my daughter. Even that sentence sounds absurd to me. There is no monetary or trade value on family and that helps me to understand the attachment to the land.

    I am disturbed by the implication of plastic use in the world. A huge cost for the “convenience”. Reading that all human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic reminded me of an experience I had when I was 8 months pregnant. I was drinking a glass of water and in the light, was able to see small flecks floating in it. It took us a few days to figure out that our plastic ice trays were not only popping out ice, but small pieces of plastic. I had been drinking tiny pieces of plastic throughout my pregnancy! I was really angry. We tried to figure out where the ice trays were from, asked ourselves how we could be stupid enough to consume anything out of plastic, tried to do something about it. But what can you do about all the plastic in the world? I am encouraged by small steps taken to make plastics safer. Production of BPA free products is a great step, though it is not the only dangerous chemical in plastics and there are still countless others entering our bodies. I also recently read that some places (for example, San Francisco city departments, and some Australian cities) are beginning to ban individual plastic water bottles. Also, grocery stores sometimes offer a small discount if you bring your own bag instead of using their plastic ones. And some grocery stores don’t even offer plastic bags anymore.

  135. With my hackles raised I again wonder why people can’t have a two-way discussion about circumstances with each party trying to “step into the others shoes”? Perhaps if Governor Stevens had stepped back and thought to himself, wow these people are quite passionate about their land and perhaps their love for it equals my desire to use the land for monetary gain. We both have the same level of passion and desire for the same item, there must be comprimise. It’s just so frustrating that people walk all over others, or provide services that hurt as well as heal rather than stepping back and finding another option that may be more time consuming or expensive but would be healing without the hurt.

    • Thanks for your comment, Amy. I think it is hard to listen to others when you are in the process of confiscating their land. One thing that was going on here is that Congress had passed the Donation Act giving title to pioneers before native people had signed it away. Made a mess for everyone.
      So perhaps what we might say is that we need to respect the ways of life of others- in spite of our plans for their resources– or not make such plans until we get their approval. Applies as much today as it did two hundred years ago.

    • It’s such a trip how the newcomers just assumed there was free land without anyone living on it and how the newly formed US government waged genocide on the native people’s in order to help establish their agenda for a new country. I don’t think there was any point where people stepped back and sympathetically or even objectively observed the situation. There was no compromise because it was war and the only way to win was to get rid of the people that already called the land home.

      • Thanks for your comment, Stephanie. It took substantial denial to say the land was empty when native people fed the first pioneers in the Northwest. And there were those who spoke out in favor of native rights; they just weren’t listened to in the larger march of US history– nor were they much noted in that history.

  136. I appreciate the idea of a “unique value” and wonder if the social pressures of our society to be just like everyone else are a result of or contribute to the lack of respect or understanding as to what we lose when we sell out for profit. I guess what I’m trying to relate this to is the indoctrination of native people to monotheistic religion which removes the sacred aspect of the land and turns it into a vehicle for production.

    • Seems to me that such dynamics as you describe here go hand in hand, Anna. There are a number of ecofeminist writers who write on this issue, Anna. Check out Christian theologians like Rosemary Reuther, for instance–who link parallel the link to a dominating society with the shift to a dominator idea of God.
      Missionaries (though not all missionaries) had a sad part in helping to disrupt native culture and take over native lands– which is why the Archdiocese of Seattle recently issued a public apology to native peoples concerning the harm done on that score.

  137. One part of this article that really caught my attention was the attempt of Joel Palmer to convince natives that moving to new land isn’t a big deal. To many Americans, location and surrounding environment don’t have a particularly large influence on day-to-day life. I know I lack appreciation for the nature that surrounds me, mostly because I grew up in a city. Many people fail to understand that perspective is a key concept to understanding cultures. While Palmer didn’t have a problem moving cross country, the native people didn’t want to move because their way of life depended on the land. No one wants to have something they depend on taken away, and no one likes being forced to learn new ways, but we convince ourselves of the mindset “my way or the highway.” Maybe the key is to look at life through others’ eyes, rather than insisting that our way is the only way.

    • Developing the perspective to see through the eyes of another is essential to any communication, Jenni.
      And as for your note about growing up in a city, I am heartened by all the environmental innovations in large US cities: urban gardens, urban forests/tree planting– and the passage of laws allowing beekeeping–as recently happened due to public pressure in New York City.

  138. When I first think about things that are”priceless” in Western civilization, I first think of physical objects- e.g. a Babe Ruth baseball card, or a Monet painting, even though obviously both have a price, it is what first comes to mind. And next comes ideas such as hapiness, piece of mind, and the key to life, etc. And these are mostly untangible dreams to most, not something they can obtain. And so we work towards the obtainable- the “priceless” possesions, to some how get the other- the “priceless” dreams. It is the missing link that really gets me thinking, what is it that keeps most of us from moving through life without the possesion linked the dream?

    • Thoughtful point, John.
      How would you approach an answer to your own question, John. What dreams– in spite of what modern ads try to sell– must be gained in some other ways than buying them at any price?

      • Its a tough question to answer. I think an awareness of the question is the way to start to answer it, but it’s hard to know where to go from there. Being poor helps. It seems that having less possesions to start with helps to be happy without them.

        • Interesting point that being poor helps– only, that is, I think if you have enough to survive. A certain level of scarcity might make one crave material possessions all the more.

  139. As a marine scientist with a special interest in marine mammals, the amount of chemical contaminants in the oceans are horrifying. 60 years after the banning of DDT, killer whales off the shores of Washington and British Columbia are consuming so much of the substance that they are literal vats for bioaccumulated DDT, all because someone in DC didnt consider the ramifications of an untested substance being released into the government. Im glad to see Europe is starting to learn from their mistakes and use the precautionary principle before bad things happen

    • When you say that Europe is learning from their mistakes are you referring to the release of DDT into the ocean? Also it is very interesting to hear a semi-professional opinion in a field besides Madronna’s. With your expertise being in marine life, would you happen to know what kind of relationship Natives had with the Ocean?

      • Hi Caleb. I am not familiar with the DDT in the ocean– I am familiar with the EU banning of pesticides that kill bees, for instance–and banning of atrazine– a primary contaminant of water systems.
        The native relationship to the ocean is a very large question; it would be interesting to see what Kellie has to say.

    • Thanks for giving us a powerful reason for avoiding such toxins and instituting the precautionary principle, Kellie!

  140. I absolutely love the idea that land cannot be bought or sold. Humans did not create it and are far from the only organisms that use it. Also, the way mitigation was explained was different then what i would have thought it to be, as an expression of property. However, I can agree that we are still manipulating the land to fit us. It was great to hear that money/value cannot override the truth. This has always been a struggle for me, connecting economics with my beliefs. No matter what some arbitrary number says, the damages or benefits of something sometimes cannot be accurately expressed.

    • I like what you said about damages or benefits of something not being accurately expressed. I definitely agree that it is extremely difficult to predict how something will affect us in the future, and that today Western society does not adequately test or really even care about the affects our new products can have. I also find it interesting to think about how positive and negative things come from many of the decisions we make, and how generally speaking we have been conditioned to completely ignore the negative things.

    • Indeed, we did not create it and are hardly alone in depending on land for our livelihood. Good reminder about money versus truth–even more important to keep in mind as lobbyists take up so much power in Washington.

  141. I completely agree with the ideas presented in this article. The story’s of the treaty’s at Cosmopolis and Walla Walla are very effective in showing the Native Americans world view and sacred relationship with the land. I did not know that plastics make up a part of humans today, this statistic was both terrifying and surprising to me. I guess it just goes to show that Americans still haven’t evolved much since their first encounters with the Native Americans, as a people, we still don’t really understand the Native worldview and we still haven’t got any closer to the land.

    • I do think that our economic system mitigates against such closeness to the land, Caleb. But it also seems to me that there are some hopeful changes for the better in this regard–as in the kind of food growing techniques listed on our links page here.

  142. I agree with Caleb in that most people do not really understand the worldview of Native Americans. Based on the opinions I have heard from others around me, it seems that many people in America view the relationship Native Americans have with nature as a nice idea, but not something that it attainable to Americans today. Too bad they do not realize that a close partnership with nature is not only attainable, it is beneficial for everyone!

    • Good point, Samantha. You might remind some of those “others” around you that such ideas expressed a system that worked for thousands of years: if such systems are not applicable to the current age, we are in trouble!

  143. It really is sad to think of all the hardships that the indigenous people of the world (particularly Native Americans in this context) have gone through. How white men stole their homes from them to just make more and more profits. I never knew about Ford and the gas tank, and how they felt it was better not to fix it because the value of human life was supposedly less than the cost to fix it. That’s so terrible! But if you look at in a business sense, it does not surprise me unfortunately.

  144. It is very humbling to read about the relationship that Indigenous people share with their land. All of the money that has been made off of the land will never amount to the value that the land is worth to its people. It is so easy to take and price something when there is little personal connection to it. This article focuses on the idea that we need to rethink what value land really has or if there is such a value.

    • Thoughtful comment, Sage. It is indeed “easy” to price something we have no personal connection to. It seems we might learn a bit about the things we don’t want to price in our lives.

      • Hi Sage. I agree that we need to think carefully about assigning a price to things that embody values. Perhaps the native peoples around Cosmopolis should have placed a price on their land- an exorbitant price that could never be met- as the governor simply was not coming around to see things as they did.

        • That is actually what native people did to the Hudson’s Bay folks who wanted to purchase the first salmon of a run (which they by tradition treated ritually): they priced it at 14 times the going rate for other salmon.

    • Sage – I agree. It is like having a group of people go into somewhere like the Vatican, saying ‘oh yes, I’ll have that for a thousand bucks…oh and this mural on the ceiling is soooo last century…’. Some places simply can’t have price tags. My only concern is that decision makers will take the needs or desires of the many and put them against those of the few. How many people need to believe that a place is sacred before it can be accepted as such?

      • Thoughtful analogy about the Vatican, Susan. It is always a good ethical exercise to try turning the tables like this and see how it plays out.
        As for numbers, the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights wasn’t talking about numbers– just the cultures that were on a land first, if that is a useful criteria to apply here.

    • Agree Sage. I believe that the indians in this article really understand the value of their land, priceless. Stevens’ had a different view of this land which had a value to him. The indians showed that they had knowledge of the land being priceless by not trading it for anything that Stevens offered.

    • That is an interesting point- I agree. If we have no personal connection to the land or anything else, it is easy to treat it as some random possession we don’t care about. How can we take care of our land if we don’t have a deep connection to it? How will we preserve it and keep it clean? I don’t think we will until we feel this deep connection- good point!

  145. The true reality of it all is that, developers now a day view things in range of prices when comparing their belongins and properties which destroy and develop on. Reading about this domination that affectted so many was sad to hear, especially with the cause of a variety of new air polluants and diseases, made me feel that they will never grasp the idea of never owning the property, because to me that propery is priceless, but to others is simply a statistic.

  146. Stevens’ tried putting a price on the land which was priceless to the natives. In our society everything has a price, even Land. Stevens was too focused on turning the land for a profit, not realizing that to the natives the land provided them with everything they needed. I find it interesting that he could not understand this concept, or was too selfish to even care.

    • I think he had his orders and his arrogance (from what else I have read about him); he thought he could get the Indians to do whatever the US wanted. We could take some lessons on what we truly want to price.

  147. That is amazing that even when the people were offered a lot of money to leave the land- they still wouldn’t. This wouldn’t happen very much anymore. I think our priorities are completely out of whack. It is neat that they valued their land so intently they refused to move for anything!

    • I think this happens all the time today– in Appalachia, for instance, where people refuse to give up their land to mountaintop removal mining– and as with the San people of Africa who refused to let diamond miners have their land. I find such instance hopeful. Thanks for your comment.

  148. It is remarkable how the Indigenous people can explain why they love their land and why they don’t want to just trade it for something and how outside people take no regards to this. Also, how people can trade things for other things that cause more problems. We as people have harmed ourselves because of the actions we do thinking there are no consequences but we have not only hurt ourselves but the living species around us. We need to stop thinking that everything can be traded for something of equal value.

  149. Plastics have revolutionized the medical and scientific community no doubt. They have allowed some incredible breakthroughs to occur especially in improving quality of life for patients. However, they are an environmental disaster due to their inability to breakdown without leaching into our water sources. Plastic represents the current mindset of innovations, they are created, diverse, provide immediate benefits, but have unforeseen long term affects that the creators have not accounted for, much like our treatment of land. Indigenous communities have every right to be skeptical of “new and improved” land schemes, the Western perspective is providing sustainable examples in other ventures.

    • Plastics are very important in medical uses I agree. I also think that is where they need to stay. We do not need plastic drinking bottles, bags, food containers, or packaging. We are killing off countless species as well as ourselves all for the trade off of cheap and easy.

    • Unfortunately, some plastics are also a disaster for patients, since they are hormone-producing. Perhaps you know about the experiment in which a researcher multiplied the growth of cancer cells simply by putting them in a plastic dish. She discovered this quite by mistake– but they were breast cancer cells and it seems that being exposed to plastic increases their growth rate. We need not to banish technology but to reevaluate it carefully– in order to create different conditions than the disastrous ones created by captains of industry who hit so many dangers in their products in order to keep their profits. (Check out the book the Secret History of the War on Cancer by a Nobel Prize winning former cancer researcher to see just how prevalent this scheming has been since the beginning of the industrial age). This is why I think the precautionary principle is so important.

  150. It’s horrible that Washington Terretorial Governeror Isaac Stevens was unable to grasp the signifigance of the land to the native peoples around Cosmopolis. Taking their land away would be like someone taking away your grandma and insisting that the stranger they are providing as a replacement grandmother is every bit as good as your actual grandma!

    • I had to laugh at your analogy of replacing grandmothers. Some might get a better deal than others just like the deal between Stevens and the Indians. I like to compare the essay to the government paying for your grandma’s little old house so that they can build a freeway through the area. Grandma is quite content living in the same house she has lived in for years. Then the government says that they need her house but will be willing to pay market rate for the property. Grandma insists that she likes the house because it is close to the market and there are many good memories that she shared in the house. The government uses eminent domain to acquire the property and grandma is forced to move into a smaller condo in the city.

    • Indeed, Amy. Good analogy!

  151. The need to place a price on everything is a bane to our society. Your child was killed in an accident, here have some money. Your home was washed away, here have some money. Oops we accidentally gave you cancer with our toxins, here have some money. We want your land, your home, your heritage. Stop crying have some money. What good is that money without the love of your child? What good does it do when you do not have your health? What good is money when it comes with the cost of your heritage, the warmth of your home, and the love of all around you? It is empty and it does not replace anything. This is what the natives were trying to get across. We also need to stop messing with nature! Killer bees are a human made menace that we can not get rid of without releasing even worse on the world. Also how is plastic better than glass or canvas? It is not but it is cheeper to make and buy, again common sense is overruled by economics. When will we learn?

  152. The essay started with an interesting story on how Stevens and Palmer both tried to justify their greed with some sort of rational. I think this article gave a good analysis of how putting a price tag on someone’s priceless item does not work in a negotiation. Stevens tried to purchase the land from the Indians with gold. Even though the Indians were not interested in gold he most likely was not giving them a very good deal if they were interested in gold. Even with today’s gold prices a hat full of gold would probably not buy 1 acre of prime real estate. It is a shame that our government has placed greed in front of doing what’s right. Unfortunately with some of the eminent domain laws our government still does the practice of purchasing the priceless home’s from citizens for pennies on the dollar for their own greed and political agendas.

    • Good point about the failed negotiation strategy here, Jon. It is indeed a shame to weigh greed against, as you note, what is right. As an aside, that is why I think we should get corporate money out of congressional lobbies and campaigns. If we are going to address the dangers of greed, we need not to reward it.

  153. It is ridiculous and arrogant to think that you can buy a naturally occurring wetland for a built one in its place. There is nothing that is equal to that. Furthermore, I believe the land always remembers its past. I met an “historical ecologist” recently who studies old maps of San Francisco Bay to try to determine where wetlands used to be during pre-colonial times and makes recommendations on where to put restored wetlands. He showed old hand drawn maps overlaid with new restoration pictures and the waterways in particular always tend to reroute to their original courses. The mitigated projected continually take maintenance because the land doesn’t do just what it is supposed to do.

    • It is ridiculous–and yet that is what wetland “mitigation” too often does, Lindzy. It must have been fascinating to see those old maps– and also great to see someone working to restore the land back to what it tended to given its natural contours.
      In fact, it is not just manufactured wetlands, but any piece of land we have so radically changed that take constant maintenance to get them to be what we want them to. Thanks for your comment.

  154. I see parallels with the story of Isaac Stevens trying to buy off the ancestral homeland of the Chehalis with some of what we are doing in our counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East. If an errant bomb misses a target and kills a child, the parents are often paid a monetary compensation for their loss. If a free-range cow gets tangled in a US outpost’s barb wire perimeter and dies, the herdsman is paid “fair market” value. Of course, I don’t know any parent that thinks that any amount of money can replace their child. I don’t think a farmer who relies on his cattle to provide for his family would rather have money in his pocket than a cow that can provide milk all winter and meat when it is time to be slaughtered. Of course, we don’t have too many options on what we “can” do to pay for these instances, and sometimes money is our best option.

  155. In a capitalistic society, valuation of everything is a must, otherwise if it is zero it is of no value. I find this crazy but that is how our society functions, we must control it all and we must now exactly how much everything is worth. Once we change our perspective, perhaps we will understand that many of the things that are valued at zero are actually priceless.

    • Good point, Brandie. Things like clean air and water are not worth “zero” just because nature provides them for free. They are, as you indicate priceless. Let’s hope we learn this lesson quickly enough.

  156. The corporate mindset has helped move the country into this sort of thinking, the “bigger the better” attitude, the focus is on money saved and stretching people and resources to the limits. It is all part of over- consumption. I remember hearing about the car companies pricing human life, and it is beyond disappointing. Money will never fulfill anyone’s life.

    • I think that not only will money not fulfill us– but the holes in our spirits created if we try to make it do this make us liable to manipulation–and to the kind of greed that can only be destructive in any community. Thanks for your comment, Michael. Pricing a human life is a tragic sign of a culture drained of real value (and a person absent any ethical stance).

  157. You make some very good points regarding modern use of genetic manipulation, plastics, and a worldview that is seemingly only “out to get a profit.” But in all of this, I am saddened that we as a culture are not getting it. Yes, there are movements to the contrary through individuals and groups that are moving away from industrial worldviews; however, is it too little, too late? Can we collectively put the brakes on the industrial mindset that brought us to this point? I don’t think it’s as easy to do as it is to say or write about.

    It took thousands upon thousands of years to build the oral traditions and mythology of the indigenous peoples of world. It has only taken a few centuries for the industrial worldview to gain immense power over many cultures. This power is seemingly relentless.

    What is the fundamental reason that these worldviews of “progress”, “industrialization”, “ownership of the land”, and “value” have become such monsters? Is it the psychological and spiritual need for belonging that we attempt to find in consumerism or entertainment? Is it a starvation for oral and mythological tradition that we have lost to urban jungles and mass marketing? Is it a need to remember that we are “of the Earth” that we play god with genetic materials?

    Perhaps it is a combination of all of these that we have allowed ourselves to become blinded to our heritage and our future.

    • I agree that blindness to our heritage (as your last sentence indicates) is intimately linked to blindness to our future (or at least the choices that present themselves there.)
      It is easy to be discouraged with how much there is to be done–and I think it important to look at our task with courage and realism, but I don’t think this is the same as arguing that it is simply too much for us. It IS true that if we believe the latter, we can be sure it is too much for us. Yes, humans have made a mess of things in a rather short time– but that ancient heritage that made us human is still within us and it is much longer and more tenured to earth than the industrialism that would separate us from our origins and the earth that sustains us. At least that is my hope: and though I might spend a good deal of time railing against the power currently given to corporations in the capitalist system which is now parting rich and poor more and more thoroughly, that is not the same as saying we cannot do anything (or enough) to change this. It seems to be that the more we know about our problems, the more we must be motivated to act.
      Thanks for your thoughtful post.

      • You’re welcome!

        It is also why I want to have a school that recounts these oral traditions and helps foster a new paradigm in individual people. Introspective awareness of our responsibility to ourselves, each other and the planet is the cornerstone vision of the school I want to establish.

        It is classes like the one you are teaching that inspire me to carry this message to more people through psychological, spiritual and social avenues.

        • And I can only state that what you are getting form this class is the direct result of what you are putting into it And I think that I am exceptionally blessed to have had the stories that non-students and students have shared with me over the years. I wish you the best for your future goals.

        • Dwayne, I agree completely that it is classes like the this that inspire people to relay the environment and spiritual messages needed for change. A few years ago I enrolled in a few classes at Utah Valley University, every student there is required to take an Ethics and Values. I thought, this is so stupid, why would I need to take an Ethics course for a degree in Aviation Science? The class turned out changing my life. It is important to see other aspects of religion and world views that are different from your own in order to fully coexist.

        • Thanks for sharing your personal experience in this regard, Kiley. It has been my experience that examining and honoring our personal values is also an essential way of honoring and empowering ourselves.

  158. There is absolute truth in the idea that here is no bridging the gap between the perspective which sees the land as distinctive, precious, and priceless– and that which sees the land as a thing to be bought and sold. I love and respect the Upper Chehalis man who spoke the words: “Move my body anywhere you wish, but cut off my head and place it on the land of my people. It says so much to set in stone how opposed the natives were to being moved.

    I have been doing a little research on GMO’s. We know nothing about thwir long term effects on the land and our bodies. I completely disagree with their use in everyday foods and medications.

    Also, I find it disgusting that scientists have recently found traces of pesticides, industrial byproducts, and mercury in the umbilical cord blood in 100% of the newborns tested.

    The government is too lenient on companies that knowingly distribute harmful products into our markets.

    • As soon as we get corporate lobbyists (such as those that have pressured the government NOT to label gmos for so many decades) out of our politics, our government regulation may have a chance to do its job. Thanks for your comment.

  159. It is sad what the natives have been through. If we were told to move, leaving behind our house because we were in the midst of industrial advancement but we will be compensated for our troubles, we would feel how the native people felt. Living in our homes enjoying what we have accomplished like having paid off the mortgage and living peaceful lives with our families and being told we have to be moved would not be settling to our taste. We would fight to hold back what is ours just as the native Indians tried.
    Also, the people of authority remain possessive of the lands for their profits and sadly our capitalist societies practices of valuing the devaluing natural resources continue to flourish. When compared to our organizations such as the EPA with the European organization such as the REACH, REACH seems to be doing better in controlling chemicals. Could the fault lie in how the congress was designed, or could it be the effects of capitalism? Once such political and economical infrastructure has been implemented at what price can things be changed?

  160. In reading the story about Stephens not understanding the Native attachment to the land, I did not doubt his ignorance, but I think his persistence was more about his personal gain than anything else. Even Stephens has a concept of “priceless,” although it is generally a material good, probably with historical or religious ties and has economic. Really, it was Stephens job to get the Natives to agree, either through bribery or coercion. It was in the US’s best interest to bribe, especially since they had very little intention to follow through. No doubt it was frustrating to learn that the Natives weren’t budging. I think Westerners do have an idea of pricelessness, although it is not generally applied to land. It is applied to children and family (or at least to one’s own). The cliche that ‘money can not buy happiness’ is very old. Sad truth is our society does not focus its energy on figuring out and promoting those values that do create genuine happiness and people are so disconnected from the natural world, they don’t know it’s value. This has all been nurtured by capitalism and capitalistic society and it is fueled by greed. The fact that we can degrade our planet to the extent that we do and continue to do so, even by people like me who hate doing it, but don’t know how to survive in this world without doing some type damage, is blatant proof that human society is terribly out of balance.

    • Hi Amy, I totally agree with you. Many times I really want to do things that are right but can’t because I don’t know how do things without some type of damage. For instance I want to buy from local farms that are all natural, buy products that are ecofriendly but I can’t afford it so I keep buying products that to be produced are harmful to the environment. Im sure the product makers of these goods would say the same of them producing their goods. Cost seems to govern our decisions majorly.

    • Very good points Amy,

      Capitalism and the pursuit of greed is definitely the underlying problem causing our society to be totally out of balance. As much as we try to make the wrongs into rights, you made a good point, it is very hard to do so without doing some form of damage. I think that small moves matter though. As more and more people do small things to improve their consumptive and wasteful ways, it should turn into something bigger. At least that is my hope!

    • I also think it is sad that we live in a capitalistic society that is fueled by greed. I think that Westerners also know what pricelessness is but some only see unique places as priceless; Yellowstone, the grand canyon, crater lake, arches and any other national park. Sad

    • Not being able to follow (or at least feeling we cannot follow) the values we hold dearest and still live well or live at all in this society certainly does reflect a society out of balance.
      And it is true that Stevens was dealing with a mandate from the government– get that land. Especially since Congress had already passed the Donation Act giving pioneers land claims BEFORE they had any agreement with native people to give it up.

  161. It is kind of scarey knowing that we are part plastic! All of the health risks, not to mention the environmental risks, associated with plastic in all of it’s manufacturing and consumption is terrible. It’s unfortunate that plastic is technologically advanced because it becomes cheaper, and the alternatives to it are more expensive to produce, so more and more plastic is made. It’s a nasty cycle.

    • Nick I agree with you it is really scary to think about how many chemicals are in our body. When I was younger I never really thought about how much our pollution gets magnified up the food chain and eventually builds up in our bodies. I now pay more attention to my actions as to not pollute our environment, animals or even ourselves with more in-organic chemicals. This chemical pollution creates harmful effects for everything and everyone involved and thus throws off the nature’s balance. This is a nasty cycle that needs to stop.

  162. I can understand how the Northwest Native people feel about their land. When I was young my parents were alcoholics that would get drunk and fight. To escape from home life I would go behind the library and spend hours in a small grove of trees. This grove of trees was my sanctuary. One day I went to my sanctuary but I found all the trees where cut down and clearing the land. I was devastated and felt like I had lost my entire world. The city had cleared the land to expand the library parking lot. When ever I look at the parking lot I remember my sanctuary and always become sad.
    I think maybe if people learned to reconnect to the land they would understand better of how Natives feel about their land.

    • Your story brings up the point that such natural places have served as refuges from social abuse in many situations, which gives me to wonder how young people raised without access to such refuge may find physical safety and emotional nurturance in the kind of abusive situation no child should be subject.
      Thank you for sharing this story.

  163. Can’t everything be priced? Surely for certain things, the price should be astronomical. For instance, the cost of a human life should be such a high cost that it cannot be fully comprehended. However, because all human life is equal, is it not fair to trade the life of 1 person for the life of 2 people? Though the price is not something tangible, it is still there. As for the topic of plastics, what about all the good that has come from plastics? Certainly many medical tools, containers and implants are made from plastics, and yield many examples of how plastic has benefited or even saved people’s lives, and these saved lives should be considered.

    • You do bring up some contrasting and quite valid points here. Plastic has certainly benefited our society in great ways, but to think that it is now part of humans, does that not concern you? I do think that even human life has some value, even if it is not monetary. But in general, yes I would agree it makes sense to trade one for many.

      • Thoughtful discussion thread– though of course, a central issue in the trading one for many argument when people are involved is just who gets to choose who the “one” (who gets cancer, for instance) is. If you are not that person, you might be willing to increase THEIR risk– but I don’t think a just society can have some at risk in this way when they did not choose to put themselves there.

    • What do you think of the point that once something is priced– even if that price is “astronomical”, we assume that it can be objectified and sold in this way. I would, for instance, be loathe to put a price on the life of my father.

  164. I lamented the losses suffered by the Native Americans that were detailed by this piece. My interest was particularly well caught near the end, however, with the mention of gene-splicing. Being a fan of journalist and author Michael Pollan, I have done a bit of reading on the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) topic. GMOs are a very touchy subject right now- a massive percentage of the foods most people eat are made primarily from crops that have been genetically altered in some way- and while the EU has placed strict labeling guidelines requiring any products with higher than 0.9% GMO ingredients, the US has yet to pass such laws.

    Many of the voices in the EPA, FDA and other portions of government have previously worked for companies related directly or indirectly to agricultural conglomerates or companies such as the Monsanto Corporation (whose technologies and methods are cutting edge and make them a leading producer of GMO varieties). Whether or not that affects current labeling standards is for personal interpretation. I appreciate companies that do label their products, and for some it is a point of pride to indicate that their goods do not contain GMOs.

    It seems as though we have spent a great deal of time and money trying to “exchange one thing for another.” I would like to see natural products appreciated for their diversity, rather than altered to fit within a mold that reflects the ideals of consumer industries such as fast food. If only a few species are supported for usage, it seems logical to link that behavior with a decrease in species diversity. That will require input from the consumers, and most likely it will take more than posted nutritional facts (another ‘perk’ in some European countries) to change food habits. Not everyone wants to or is financially able to stop eating inexpensive foods, and it is well reflected in the offerings of suppliers.

  165. This article really does make you think what the true price of everything is, including human life. At the beginning, I was truly disgraced by the governor’s ignorance and disrespect shown toward the native people of the Pacific Northwest. How could he say such things as to just throw them out on a boat? No government official should ever talk this way about an ethnicity or race. It just isn’t right. However, I did like the turn that the article took towards the end. I really was surprised about the impacts of plastic. How it can not be broken down by sunlight, thus becoming part of the ocean life and also that every human has some percentage of plastic in them. That disgusts me.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. I hope we learn to value things–and especially lives– differently. I obviously agree that plastics do not make very good cell companions in humans or other bodies.

  166. The westerns system of value is arbitrary. Before dollars it was gold and precious metals. These have no value back then other then their superficial beauty. Gold has no strength and cannot be wielded as a weapon and diamond cannot be shaped into one. I know no these things are very precious due to their use in technology (thats why they are not traded) but trying to trade something for land that the indigenous people have lived on for centuries and loved with every fiber is not a fair trade at all.
    There is something very precious about this story. Not too long there were people who cared about something more then their lives. Now lives are worthless. The cost benefit analysis that the EPA does is on human lives is appalling. And to think that all the republican candidates have vowed to get rid of it. This article was a general eye opener to the amount of stuff we let through because its not deemed cost beneficial enough to fix.

    • Profound observation that there were once values that people cared about more than their lives (were so central to their lives people chose not to live without them) and now even human lives have diminished value of pricing them in a way you rightly call appalling.

    • It is sad that humans can view their own species as goods that can be traded and sold for gain. “Look, I found this stick, I will give it to you for all this land you have. What? You think this stick is worthless, look I can shake it at you.” That is my analogy to what has happened to the native tribes of America.

      • Excellent analogy of the stick, Stephen. Well illustrates the (hollow) threats as well as the lack of grounds for valuing such things as life — and the natural sources of life, I might add.

  167. The idea of moving a current population off their land is totally ridiculous. I understand moving from one place to another to make for a better life, but to forcibly remove someone from their land is stealing. One cannot put a value on something like land, or a waterfall. There is no basis of comparison, no cost of labor, no cost of supplies other than the perceived value of that land by someone else. The cost that someone sees verses the the negative effects are numbers pulled out of the air. If I can see the value of a car being worth three thousand dollars, but the owner is asking five thousand, it is how the value is perceived, a matter of opinion. Being moved from the land is the same way, the cost of being kicked out of “home” verses the negative effects is only an opinion from both parties. Modern man has this notion that they can make things better than nature, which sometimes is true, but mostly by dominating the planet without regards for the consequence has proven disastrous. People need to realize that this kind of thinking cannot go on much longer without serious effects to the evolution of the human race.

    • I certainly agree with you, Stephen. We can on like this for much longer, pulling the prices for such things as land, air, and clean water out of thin air so that they can be traded on the open market (or locked up by some to be paid for by others, as in the current push by those such as Nestle to buy up global clean water supplies).
      In terms of plainspeaking such pricing (and forced purchase) of such things as a people’s homeland is indeed stealing.

  168. I was appalled to read the Mother Jones Pinto Madness article. When a society equates a cash value, places a price on human life that can be used to justify corporate profits, well, I believe that society has reached its apex of evolution and quickly heads down the slippery slope into history books and the fossil record. Sadly, we recognize Mr. Iacocca as a one of the great business management minds of the century.
    The indigenous people of the pacific northwest couldn’t fathom that material wealth could replace their connection with the lands that nourished, protected and gave them life in exchange for moving to a foreign land. Isaac Stevens “Threated to maroon them as sea until they learned to live on the land of others’ rather than their own”, yet their own land was to become the land of others yet they were not permitted to live on it. What a paradox!
    Local to my area is the Perry Nuclear Power Plant: . Originally strongly opposed by the residents of north east Ohio, I have been told that the deal was sweetened with promised financial contributions to the local school system. That was a limited time deal and now the once flourishing school system is looking for levies to maintain the level of excellence that was achieved by the community having a “price”. Oh yeah, the reactor is still there looming on the skyline of the lake shore.
    I feel our society has been seduced by shiny marketing initiatives, comforting us as we allow a price to be put on the quality our air, water and food in exchange for allowing corporations to generate large profits for their investors. Should fiduciary responsibility supersede social responsibility?

    • There is a price on everyone’s life in today’s age. In the past people were needed for things. Not every American is valuable. I blame this on over population. Your occupation can be replaced by someone else and you are not as valuable to anyone other yourself and anyone you know. Even women are less important because we have things such as abortion and birth control. They are no longer precious. The Chinese don’t even allow that many women per family for this reason. The men are needed because they have needs for workers. The US has no need for workers because we have become a service and scam artist country. We manufacture nothing and everything is about money. This is not the way I would like things to be but its the truth. Unless we serve in the military, research new ideas and technology, we are not needed by the government. Individuals have their own ideas of value and some rely on people in the health care industry etc. I want to be valuable but this country has made it very difficult on people and their goals. I teach young children in the inner city for a living. This makes me valuable to them, I like to think.

      • I agree that overpopulation makes the individual less valuable. I see this all around me. Look at our health care system, where costs are skyrocketing, insurance is unobtainable and preventive and early care is non-existent if one does not have money. And this is not something under the radar, our current pack of GOP presidential candidates openly seem to endorse the idea that medical care is not a right. Evidently, neither is clean air and water (or water at all, considering the momentum now to privitize it). High tech jobs that allow for “fixes” to our environmental problems and economic development are prized; life science degrees in ecology and other similar sciences (climate scientists for instance) that warn of the need to protect our natural resources and constrain our consuption are looked down upon and often paid less. What matters is that your scientific field and personal ethics support runaway capitalism. I have to disagree with you about the presence of birth control and abortion devaluing women though, although I can understand what you mean by it since obviously 2 lives should mean more than 1 (the woman and the baby in the womb). Women have high value no matter what their fertility status or their personal choices made about their bodies.

        • It is an interesting point as to which came first here– over-population or devaluation of individual humans. This is why I put up Bill McKibben’s conclusions about Kerala here on the “quote of the week”. What he found in more than one place was that if we wish to reduce population, we must give families enough security and justice so that they feel their children will survive and be “enough”.

        • In no way to I want devalue women. I like women. Its just that in the past women were very important because cultures needed to reproduce. We are coming to a point where reproduction is not needed and is not wanted (birth control). Health care is not a right. If you get sick or injured regardless if it your fault or not, you need to take responsibility for yourself.

        • I want to add that women have been important to societies in the past for a vast number of reasons more than their ability to reproduce.
          And check out our quote of the week: what Bill McKibben is telling us is that the case of Kerala confirms UN research in a number of other global arena. Give women equality and respect in their cultures, and they automatically choose to limit family size.
          And for that matter, many indigenous peoples consciously controlled their populations.

        • one note to my last comment. If you get injured or sick and its not your fault, you usually receive care without having to pay for it. Workers compensation etc.

      • It sounds like you have important personal work, Andrew. I think that you have a key point: our work is valuable to the others we serve in this.

    • I think that being appalled at Mr. Iococca’s Pinto “madness” is a rational response to setting a price on human life– which does not, as you indicate, bode well for the evolutionary point at which a society that would tolerate this finds itself.
      It is tragic that so many “shiny marketing initiatives” take the place of our ethical (not to mention, rational) choices. And one of the built in dangers of such reactor sitings is putting them on lakes and rivers to provide cooling for their spent fuel rods, which leads to the danger of contaminating water sources– such as radiation still leaking into the Columbia River from Hanford.
      Getting a school money handout is not helping children if they have to drink radioactive water as a result (I am not familiar with this plant, but it is certainly a danger).

    • I’m sorry to hear that there is a nuclear power plant in such close proximity to your home. Here are some facts about nuclear energy that you may find interesting, and discomforting. Still, they say knowledge is power.

      -The US government has provided huge subsidies, tax breaks, and loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry. Therefore, the financial incentive your school system received was probably from tax dollars.

      – The nuclear fuel cycle involved in producing nuclear energy:
      1. mining the uranium
      2. processing and enriching the uranium to make fuel
      3. using it in a reactor
      4. safely storing radioactive wastes for thousands (240,000) years, or less if plutonium could be safely removed.

      -Therefore, when the entire nuclear fuel cycle is accounted for, scientists believe that the energy put into the nuclear energy system is greater than that which it produces.

      -“The US has been selling nuclear reactors and uranium fuel enrichment technology for decades. Much of this equipment and information can be used to produce nuclear weapons. Currently, approximately one of every three countries in the world either has nuclear weapons or the knowledge and ability to build them” (Miller and Spoolman,

      -According to a Nevada state agency report, “10 years after being removed from a reactor, a spent-fuel assembly would still emit enough radiation to kill a person standing 39 inches away in less than 3 minutes” (Miller and Spoolman, p. 314).

      Therefore, because of the reasons listed above nuclear power shouldn’t be an option and tax payers should definitely not be financially backing it either. There are other viable options for energy and those are the ones we should employ.

      Miller, G. T. and S. E. Spoolman (2010). Environmental Science. 13th Edition. Belmont, CA, Brooks/Cole, p. 314.

      • We also have a “choice points” assignment on nuclear power coming up in lesson six– and one of the readings covers these points from the perspective of Congressional choice– a note I received from Congressman Peter DeFazio that articulates similar points about the economic as well as environmental drawbacks of a kind of power that is “clean” in name only. Thanks for continuing this conversation. My next choice would be to give Scott some way to act with respect to his values in terms of this plant. I am willing to bet he has plenty of information about what he doesn’t like about it (as the link in his comment indicates).

  169. In a capitalistic society, valuation of everything is a must, otherwise if it is zero it is of no value. I find this crazy but that is how our society functions, we must control it all and we must now exactly how much everything is worth. Once we change our perspective, perhaps we will understand that many of the things that are valued at zero are actually priceless.

    • If “we” don’t control it, then “they” will control it and we will have less, so we better lay claim so we can sell it to them later… I’m in agreement with you Brandie that we live in a crazy society today. We as a modern culture are so driven to consume and that requires money (or something of value to trade), so we dutifully go off to work each day to trade “ourselves” for a few pieces of paper to spend on something else. This reminds me of the beginning of the movie The Gods Must be Crazy when the director shows the silliness of the civilized society working in the business office doing silly things on a set schedule. In direct contrast to ways of the !Kung people.

      • Trading away our own time in exchange for the essentials of survival is the way capitalism works– except for a few at the top who get to take advantage of the system.
        And just a note on The Gods Must be Crazy– some pointed metaphors in this film, and I understand the Kung! who played in it had some fun doing so– but it has been roundly critiqued in terms of its stereotype of these people. They are a good deal more complex than expressed by their role as simple foil to our civilization in the film.

    • Pointed intersection between setting a price on a thing and “controlling” it, yes?

      • Of course, by belonging to a coop and bartering for services, food and other neccessities, we can in some ways mitigate the impact of capitalism on our lives. I have read through this entire thread, dating back several years, and one thing we can take hope in is that most people are in agreement – we all find this idea that everyting can be replaced by something else appalling, especially when it comes to land, food, water and spiritual wellbeing.

        • Indeed, we seem to agree we don’t like to price certain things, Mary. Perhaps we need to make it more clear what we are really purchasing when we buy particular types of products?

  170. Buying and selling land is how western civilization developed its economy. Many wars throughout history have been fought in order to own these lands. They then make a profit or use land as an incentive to pay people with. The ultimate goal for people is to have their own piece of land. People do not want to share this land but rather have a feeling that it is theirs and theirs only. If people are willing to fight wars over something that should be shared by all then why wouldn’t it be valuable? What is money anyways? Gold is shiny rock and paper money is a trade note. The most precious money is land and it always has been since humans developed culture. Even the native Americans love their land and do not like newcomers settling in their backyards.

    • What is money anyhow is an excellent question. It is only symbolic and represents what our society creates the conditions for buying with it.
      And when clean water and air and stable climate are gone, no pieces of paper, backed by whatever human state, will be able to purchase them back.

      • This is why it is important to understand that we are not a natural occurring species on planet Earth. Mrs. Holden, Look into the Ancient Alien theory. I think it is impossible for our species to be so far ahead of all the other species on Earth. Advancement was too rapid to be normal.

        • We are not going to see eye to eye on the Ancient Alien theory. I have elsewhere replied in detail with respect to the problems I see with these theory.

        • Well you can’t explain structures around the world. You can’t explain humans genetics. And you can’t explain religion. No offense because nobody can without ancient aliens. I made up the theory myself when I was 13 without any outside influences. No that I have reviewed all of the evidence, I was correct. Please direct me to the site you explained why you see problems with the theory.

        • Here is what I commented in response to your bringing up this idea as a comment to “Indigenous Peoples”
          I would disagree that anyone needs to read the ancient aliens theory, Andrew. I myself have a good deal of difficulty with this theory, since it seems to flow from preconceptions about “advanced” technology that assume that indigenous peoples could not possibly developed particular knowledge/technology, so that people from outer space with a technology just like ours must have landed from somewhere else to teach them this.
          With the entire universe out there, there may well be other life forms that have something to teach us (I actually think so)– but I also have a problem with the idea that humans are not “natural” creatures. I have never seen any data to the contrary that is at all convincing to me. I would say that close observation over thousands of generations can yield detailed knowledge and technology. For instance, there are those indigenous peoples who predicted the last major Asian tsunami and tried to warn the Indian government about it. How did they know? The changes in their fish catches were similar to those that had happened many generations before in knowledge their ancestors passed on to them. (Deep sea fish tended to rise to the surface as a result of deep sea disturbance). I would propose that all similarly “fantastic” knowledge of indigenous peoples can be explained. It seems to me an insult not only to these peoples but to our own human capacities that we think we have to attribute such things to those from another world.
          I am also concerned about an “aliens” theory that would supposedly take us away with facing the limits of this world–and accordingly, the consequences of our own actions.

        • Your bring up good points about indigenous peoples. What technologies do they have currently? Nothing that can advance their culture any further. These people have essentially lived the same way for thousands of years without any advancements. Not only do they live in the past, they are okay with it (the natural way which is the way we are supposed to live). Why have other cultures advanced so rapidly compared to them? Unorganized and incapable of significant inventions, they are what should be expected from a species that has had too little time to advance in the ways we have. Not only do I think there was genetic mutation of Neanderthals which produced Homo Sapiens (Adam and Eve) but I believe extra knowledge was passed on by the Gods to advance culture further (Apollo). Whats fascinating is that our ancestors from nearly every culture in the world have documented this interaction with E.T with their own religion. Are we expected to believe our ancestors from all over the world were capable of creating the same fictional stories about their Gods who came from the sky? If you think the pyramids were constructed by human intelligence you are far from reality. Those structures cannot be replicated today and contain mathematical and architectural perfections beyond modern knowledge.

        • Andrew, the idea that no ancient human peoples could have developed a technology because we don’t understand it only illustrates ethnocentrism.
          Actually, given enough slave labor and the use of levers, there are plenty of theories about how the pyramids got built– and they have been mathematically detailed.
          I am not posting any more comments on this topic. I understand it is a pet theory of yours, but with all due respect, this is not the forum for publicizing it. It has nothing whatsoever to do with class material or the focus of this website.

  171. I’m sorry, but the fact that there is a “plastic soup” floating in the ocean, stretching from California almost all the way to Japan, is inexcusable. This is definitely one of the most repulsive environmental devestation facts that I have learned thus far, along with the horrific destruction of our rain forests.

    We have to use alternatives to plastic, there is no other way. What gives man the right to destroy the Earth? Does money justify this? Not even a little bit. The oceans, the rainforests, the soil, and all facets of the environment isn’t ours to spoil. Governments, especially the United States, have looked in the other direction for far too long. By doing this and even going so far as to pay corporations to destroy our planet, by distributing perverse subsidies, the government is not only allowing exponentially increasing pollution, but encouraging it as well. Along with pollution, natural resource depletion is also going to be a major problem for future generations to absorb. It is time for governments to work with environmentalists, and stop working with perverse companies who don’t consider their impact on nature.

    Maybe some people/corporations don’t care, but once our natural resources are destroyed and/or a specie becomes extinct, all the money in the World can’t replace what once was.

    • I agree with your response to the plastic soup in our oceans, Rose–which is why I think that local laws outlawing plastic bags and bottles are so important.
      I appreciate your passion in your comment. We go along doing what we do–and thinking (or unthinking) we have a license to destroy other lives and their ecosystems until we are able to listen to this kind of question when someone puts it directly, “What gives humans the right to destroy…?”
      Let us hope the realization to this rhetorical questions comes sooner rather than later, and meanwhile, it is important to work in every way we can to make sure that our government does not continue to reward those who damage the commons upon which we rely for survival.

    • The plastic soup floating around is most definitely horrible. I think that banning all plastics might be a little hasty. We have already produced so much of it that we should place more value in the recycling system. Plastic can be reused, if our society shifts its view just a bit towards a have recycling system I think it would help on the road to getting rid of plastic issues. Here in Germany they have a very strict recycling system. I have 4 designated garbage cans for plastic, refuse, metal, and paper. Taxes go up if the government has to employ sorters to make people recycle. Maybe if we had more stringent laws in the U.S. like in Germany we can help fix up the environment.

      • Plastic CAN be reused, but only a few times before it is totally degraded, and as I understand it, each reuse puts it into a less recyclable product. Also, the energy it takes to recycle plastic and the lack of current markets for it (there is such a glut) are other problems.
        I think banning plastic bags and bottles as some US cities have already done is a step in the right direction. And then there is excess packaging. I heard that one thing that happened in Germany is that manufacturers were responsible for figuring out what to do with their own packaging after a product was bought or consumed–and this substantially cut down on packaging. This was a few years back, but when someone bought something, they left the packaging with the store for the manufacturer to take back and deal with. Have you heard of this?

        • I am glad to see that cities are starting to ban plastic bags. After doing a little research I realized that more cities have been successful at the ban than I was aware of. I am excited to see we are making some progress on this issue!

          I am also interested in Germany’s solution to excess packaging. It was a great idea to make manufacturers responsible for the packaging after the product was consumed. This really makes the manufacturer take responsibility for how much packaging they use. I am not surprised that it has substantially cut down on packaging. Seems like a good process to implement in the US as well.

        • Great points, Alicia. I am glad that the list of cities banning plastic bags is becoming more and more substantial.
          And I would love to see such a packaging law implemented here– after all, we might discourage all this excess packaging a bit.

  172. This essay arouses some very raw emotions in me. Until about 4 months ago, I managed 5 public lands that were protected for water and natural resources. My job for 17 years was to care for the land – to burn it as it had historically and naturally burned, to care for the wildlife by managing the habitat, to ensure water was kept clean and uncontaminated, to restore natural flows and natural communites. Then one day I was told I was no longer needed, caught in a wave of over 200 people in my agency alone, laid off by our governor. Many of us were the ones that had worked hard to protect and care for the resources of the state, and it was made clear that we no longer needed because “they were changing directions”. In other words, our Governor wanted to make the land pay for itself, and he did not want our natural resources to get in the way of economic recovery and development. Surplus of public conservation lands to the private sector is now in the works. In fact, the Florida legislature is now in session and the lawmakers are doing everything they can do roll back 40 years of progress by overturning regulations and environmental protections. I feel like the Indians must have – removed from the only thing I really loved, and then helpless as a brute force proceeded to try and destroy the land entirely. You have to wonder when we will stop. Will it really take the complete depletion of our resources before we realise we may have possessions but our spirit has been bled dry and killed? That there is nothing left to revitalize and renourish us?
    The problem with plastics is frightening. I read an article not too long ago about how the very tiny plastic pellets are in the bodies of tiny marine invertebrates and the consequences of this are not known. The enormity of what we have done to our planet and the life support system should be recognized by the fact that we have plastics embedded in us, along with heavy metals, potentially nanoparticles, pesticides, etc. There is not a place you can go where you are not exposed to something in the environment that may harm you. What bothers me is even if EPA measures risk by acceptable number sof human lives/injuriy, it is all based on exposure to one thing. What about the synergistic and cumulative affects of it ALL??? We do not have a clue what that might be.

    • There is such terrible grief in this process of ravaging our lands that is still going on. How wretched it must be for you to see these lands you have protected with so much of yourself suddenly shifted into a “money-making” category of “things” for the profit of some human somewhere. This plan, I take it, from the same governor that has a history of felony fraud for getting money illegally.
      And with the 200 of you gone, there is a double benefit to those busy pricing something we can never replace, in our lifetime or any other: the money for your positions are saved along with quieting your voices. But I hope you are not accepting this and going quietly! I know how disheartened you must be as you work to find a way to support yourself (too often our system of profit first acts by means of economic blackmail).
      Someday we must surely understand that, as you note, we cannot continue to ravage the lands that sustain us and make a home for humans on this earth.
      Is there any place to which the readers of this forum can send letters or sign a petition? At the very least, the governor and legislators that are up to this should understand they are not totally avoiding public scrutiny.
      I did find this link: can they support you or you ally with them?

  173. I wish we were able to see and value the natural world for what it is, but I worry that materialist lifestyles will destroy the environment before the majority view the world that way. Has there been any success in conveying the concept of “belonging to the land” to non-natives? In Suzuki’s Personal Foreword in Wisdom of the Elders, he wrote about a contemporary meeting between the Haida and loggers who had recently moved to the Haida Gwaii archipelago. The Haida were trying to convey the importance of the land to their lives. This seems to be a conversation that has been occurring since Europeans arrived on the North American continent.

    On to another point in the essay – I do not think we can successfully mitigate wetlands. What we are able to create is rarely equal to what we destroy. Anywhere from 4-69% of projects meet their paperwork requirements, and the majority fail to monitor their created wetlands. Even fewer projects meet the ecological requirements, from the size of the wetland replacement to building a wetland of the same type and functionality as what was destroyed, to maintaining the site. It can take decades to centuries for a human-built wetland to reach a level of functionality similar to what was bulldozed out. Very few of us have that kind of attention span. ( , )

    This is one of the main reasons I am against the Athabasca oil sands project. There is no way for humans to “fix” the land afterward. There seems to be a feeling in some articles that the Canadian boreal forest and wetlands are so vast, that it is okay if we destroy some of it, even if the wetlands cannot be fully replaced and the Athabasca Delta is polluted. And the corporations do not seem worried about the health, social and cultural losses suffered by the native people of the area. (I understand the other side of the argument – jobs, energy from a friendly source, but I disagree with the need.)

    The February 2012 issue of Smithsonian magazine featured an article describing the destruction of forests along the Amazon because people are searching for gold.
    Our desire for natural resources, for money, continues to destroy the environment. I agree we should not put prices on life, but how else can we convey the importance of what surrounds us? What will reach people who don’t spend time in the natural world?

    • Thanks for the link to the wetland mitigation success report, this looks to be very important. I was sickened by the information in the Smithsonian article and the anything goes attitude when gold is what one is seeking.
      And I have seen mixed reports on the “energy from a friendly source” argument with respect to oil sands development.
      Your most powerful point here is the imbalance in time as well as quality between what we destroy and what we repair. In the context of sustainability, that is a little like taking out a loan and paying off one-third of it and claiming that is good enough because that is all we can manage as we just keep taking out more loans. Eventually we will simply deplete the world that sustains us, physically and emotionally.

  174. It is very scary to think that our bodies have a certain amount of plastic in them. Our history is littered with us creating new technology without being able to tell all of the consequences. We overharvested Salmon in the Northwest because there was such a large amount that it could never run out.

    I’ve grown up in the capitalist system where most things have a price associated to them. It would be nice to change our current system to something that realizes certain natural resources have no price on them.

    If only pioneers had been a little more openminded, we might not have the abusive history that we do towards native peoples. It would be frowned upon to remove a baby from loving capable parents but it wasn’t upsetting to part natives from their land.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Holly. I Like your analogy of nurturing the land– and caring for it as part of our family.

    • It is not just our past that created and utilized without knowing the consequences, it is our present as well. We, as a society, continue to experiment to learn the consequences, however we also accept the unknown risk for what is currently perceived as a great benefit.

      I agree completely with pioneers needing to be a bit more open minded, but I think today’s people are also very closed minded in the same regard. We tend to put ourselves and those like us in higher standing than others, be it race, socioeconomic status, or a multitude of other differences. Please remember and know that in cultures around the world, female infanticide is still practiced in order to create a prodigal son. Everything has it’s perspective.

  175. This article touched on a few things that I find extremely frightening in today’s world. The first of those things being plastics and how they negatively affect humans and the natural world. It is hard to imagine today’s world without plastics, however they are causing a multitude of problems. I find it alarming that plastic has become a part of our physiology and that we have no idea what part of our physiology it replaces. It is also scary to think about the plastic soup floating around in the ocean. Suddenly, something made to make our lives easier is making it much more difficult by causing cancer, causing endocrine disruption in infants and becoming a regular part of wildlife species’ diets.
    The idea of genetically modified foods is also highly disturbing. The fact that some crops, such as soybeans, are producing genes that have unknown effects and are still being distributed to the population seems crazy. Not only are these products allowed to be on the market, but they are not labeled so people know what they are purchasing. These genetically modified crops also spread for miles making it nearly impossible from keeping them separate from non genetically modified crops.
    Life and health are two things that I believe to be priceless. Products like plastic and genetically modified crops put a price on the life and health of both people and the natural world. It is important to reevaluate that everything can be exchanged for a price.

    • Life and health are indeed priceless, Alicia–and I find it very troubling that genetically engineered products are allowed on the market given that fact.
      And I certainly agree with you on the issue of plastics.

  176. A whole part of me identifies with the theme of using up natural resources and making the use of plastics outlawed is important. I can’t believe that people would get to the point of no return and be so ignorant as to believe that natural resources will always be around and available at certain people’s demand. It is foolish to think that natural resources will always be floating about and accessible when we need them and how we need to use them.

    The very idea that an Indian would rather die than be ordered off their land is much like someone ordered out of their home but choose to stay with it. We can identify with the idea of “home” but not to the idea of an “Indians” land. Why? If someone is evicted from their home, we feel for them why? Why do we not feel for an Indian ordered from his land? Is it simply because the government at the time found them insignificant or is it something more, something we again fail to understand. Which is their relationship with nature. Few people are able to grasp this idea, but it is important because we need to understand that the land is more valuable than we will ever be able to scientifically prove.

    • Sadly, Colette, I think this dynamic flowed from the fact that pioneers wanted this land for themselves. But perhaps the historical inheritance this left us with is the lack of care for the land as shared or commons– since we demeaned it in others we declared “insignificant”.

  177. This article demonstrates what people value and place priority upon, cannot be priced. I have lived all over in this country from north to south and west to east. What I learned while traveling, is that every region is different and has its benefits as well as the people who feel tied to the area in which they live. I have lived in high rise apartment building in downtown Seattle and a rustic house far from anything in South Carolina. I also learned that a rural lifestyle where I am work and experience the land is very important to me.

    In 2004 I was offered an amazing position doing neurosurgery for a prestigious practice in Seattle. At the time, I lived in a small rural town on the southern Oregon coast. Financially, I was looking at a salary six times what I was making in the small town. Professionally, this was an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity. After much thought, I chose to decline the offer. The physicians increased their salary and benefits proposition hoping I would change my mind. But I realized that no amount of money would make me happy living or working within a major city. I could commute, but from an outlying area but I would still be trapped by the urban lifestyle. After a long discussion with my husband, I turned down the position and chose to work in a rural clinic in Central Oregon, where the people understood why I chose a rural location and I didn’t need to explain how quality of life mattered more than quantity in my bank account.

    My family understood this; they are where I come from. However, my in-laws refused to speak to us for nearly a year, as they felt money held priority over any other feature of life. Like most people, they will never really understand being trapped by the “American Dream” and having a house and lawn simply to make the neighbors jealous, nor the freedom that comes with truly living my life as I see fit, which includes smelling fresh air every day.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal wisdom and integrity here– there is status that comes from money and position in this culture (maybe you shouldn’t have even let you in-laws know you were considering this job?) and dignity and self-esteem that comes from honoring who you are — and the community to which you wish to belong. Congratulations on knowing the difference.

    • You made a very difficult decision. I think just about anyone would be swayed by the amount of money a high paying job can offer, and the type of lifestyle that would bring. Congratulations on putting your own priorities first and making a very intelligent decision! It is rare to find people saying that they love the land or they love the place they live. Mostly we hear about how people love the places on the land. Hence, the desire for most to live in a big city. What a great example of appreciation for your surroundings!

  178. When I hear stories, like the one in the beginning of this article, I am stunned into silence at the ignorance of people, both today and in the past. How Isaac Stevens could not understand why the Natives would not move is beyond my comprehension. How he thought that people would leave something that had been theirs for generations all for a hat full of gold, baffles me. The Indigenous didn’t even view gold as having worth, initially, why would they take something that held no value to them? What is more is the white settler’s belief in Manifest Destiny, that this land was theirs for the taking – how can a person believe this? This is a part of history that just makes me so angry.

    I am reminded of a concept, though, when I read about our ability to take land and do what we will and then throw it away. The idea that as immigrants we come over and view the land not as ours that we love but a temporary place to be until we can return back to the land we love and truly care for. It is, supposedly, this lack of caring for the new land that justifies (somehow) our actions to take and use it for the moment. I believe this to be an excuse for our actions, and a horrible excuse at that, yet it seems to be a viewpoint that people believe in.

    It saddens me to think how we quantify a life, something that should hold no monetary quantity – for everything life should be something viewed as priceless. It is so sad our current worldview.

    • I agree completely. But I also think that the system we live in is a capitalist system and you cannot have it both ways. I don’t think you can live in a society that embraces competition, ingenuity, profit making and high paid jobs with nice cars and big houses on 5 acres and at the same time want to respect and long for the values of the indigenous. I believe their way to be better, yes. Being aware is critical to change. But the change we need, has to fit in our system or it wont work. Who is thinking of those solutions? Who is educating the masses about environmentally sound business practices, socially responsible business practices? Maybe we should start there. Create a way for people to live responsibly, to lessen their footprint, to minimize their lifestyle while not feeling they have to give up everything and live like a Native American. The details of HOW should be discussed more.

      • That the “how” needs to be decided by each of us in our personal choices and our collective choices to reward ONLY businesses that produce results we really want rather than profit for themselves. As you point out here, it is absolutely true that the earth cannot sustain the “nice cars and big houses on 5 acres” for everyone– so a few get this and the rest get the promise of it — hard to sell to someone living under a bridge or the Mexican farmer who cannot feed his family since he has just lost his subsistence land to a conglomerate who grows strawberries for the US market. If you believe in the economy driven by people’s preferences (rather than manipulated to create profit for a few) then the collective consumer choices we make drive our technology as well as vice versa.
        Think of the example of auto companies who said that a high mileage car (in those days 25 mpg) could not be made without breaking them– but as soon as the standards were set, they made them (and in fact, had already made them, just as the toy manufacturers who make safe toys already do– for the EU).

    • Well might the belief in such things as Manifest Destiny make you angry, Michelle. People can convince themselves such stories are true to justify taking over the land of another. Our “quote of the week” indicates how this process of pricing something devalued it on the continent of Africa as well.

    • Quantifying a life. How can one even begin to put price tags on people? It reminds me some of slave trades and that there are some innocent people who get carried away by the current. Sometimes they come back but most of the time they don’t. But the real question you made me think of here is how…. how do we get to the point where we even think of the numerical value of a single person? All these issues raises questions that may never be answered, unless you are the one behind the scenes in someone like Isacc Stephan’s shoes.

      • It is a very important issue to ponder– how we got to the place where we are able to set (and accept, in the corporate realm) price tags on human life. Hopefully going “behind the scenes” to explore this will help us change it.

      • Colette, wow! What a great question to think about about “how [did] we get to the point where we even think of the numerical value of a single person?”. How indeed?! As I sit here and ponder this question I can not help but think “well, when we gave a corporation the ability to act with the rights of a single person”. But no, as you state it happened much earlier in history when we began using people as slaves – so immediately my head goes to the 16 and 1700’s with the African slave trade. But slavery was occurring long before that in the biblical times and the Egyptian times. And I wonder was there ever a time when we didn’t see another human life with a “numerical value” on it? Maybe this is the problem…we have never known another way of valuing a human besides the monetary value of them. A very sad thought.

        • I think we needed to develop a sense of money in order to price human life in this way (or maybe our sense of money came from this kind of devaluing of life– that does not bode well for the future of capitalism, if true).
          How do we value not only human but more than human life is a profound issue to ponder, Michelle. We are not bound by our human history, though I hope we can learn from it.

  179. Interesting article. Every time I read about this, I am faced with the obvious question: can we, today, live in a sustainable way? Plastics are used so much because it is so versatile and convenient. I see the obvious problems that are mentioned in the article, but what do we do? Stop using plastic? What effects would that have? I know a guy who is running a really great business that takes garbage and plastic and turns it into energy. So, do the solutions mean drastic lifestyle and governance changes for us all or are there solutions that can begin to address the problems in the realm that we live in already (mandated recycling, better regulations on what we eat and who can make what). I don’t know but as much as I love this information and believe it to be true, the solution has to be doable or nothing will change.

    • I think we can only answer your question with our own personal choices, Summer.
      The solution does indeed have to be “doable”– and I think we are not as constrained to repeat our past mistakes as our system might lead us to think.
      It is great that someone is using plastic to generate energy in a sound way- the only way I had heard of this is to burn them, which releases highly toxic byproducts.
      This is also not an all or nothing process — I think doing away with plastic bottles and grocery bags wouldn’t hurt anyone but their manufacturers.

  180. This idea that everything has a price is completely accurate. I think I am going to have to plead the NIMBY lie in this case. Although I have personally bought every single thing that resides in my house, I would like to think that I do not contribute to any manufacturer that openly hurts others. However, I buy bottled water, use plastic bags to pick up after my dog, store food in plastic containers, and even use makeup that does not outright say it has not been tested on animals, although I am going to look into this. Looking around and noticing all of the potentially hazardous material that I keep in my house, I wonder how the government has made these objects of manufacturing legal?

    As the essay stated, human life has a price too. So how small is that price that we are tricked into purchasing, exchanging, and living with potentially harmful products that society deems useful? I mean where did we go wrong? Again, I feel as though we have the ability to stop this from happening, but are we really that outnumbered that we can’t force some sort of change? Recycling has had a huge resurgence, especially in Portland. We see plastic bag usage depleting, an abundance of reusable water containers (not bottles), and compensation for recycling plastic. I am just wondering why we did not have these ideas in place when plastic manufacturing was first started. I’m guessing because we did not know of the harmful effects, but it still feels as though these problems should have had solutions from the beginning. It is as if we are constantly playing catch up with finding environmental solutions for hazardous situations. Obviously we are not thinking about sustainability when creating or inventing new techniques or products. I wish there was some sort of branch of government that was able to push for environmental sustainability within technology to ensure human life, and the earth itself, will not be harmed in the process.

    • Hi Jamie, thanks for the thoughtful personal that applies, I am sure, to most of us in one way or another.
      I though Multnomah County just outlawed either plastic bags or bottled water– so you should be seeing a change there soon.
      I would very much like to see the precautionary principle put into effect so that we are not in the position, as you say, of playing catch up. Unfortunately, as the documentary Trade Secrets tells us, a consortium of plastics manufacturers who knew the danger of these products to their works conspired to keep this information secret so it did not cut into their profits. We need a worldview that puts health (and care) before profit.
      And I understand there are recyclable bags with which to clean up after your dog–many municipalities put them into public dispensers.

  181. GM foods in my mind were healthy General Mill foods; however in 1996 genetically modified foods were put on the market. I feel these foods cannot be called healthy for there to unsure. They are foods resulting from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques, which seems unsure to me because a person can be allergic to fish and eat fish DNA without knowing. I just want more research done on GM foods before there pushed on me and my loved ones.
    I have heard that GM foods are not considered a mutagen and that after 2010 they are not being sold in stores, but I would like to be sure and I do not know who to believe. Also I wonder can seeds from a non GM farm mix with GM seeds, it seems to me it would happen. As this essay states it is time to think about and revalue the things that are priceless–before we trade them all away. I just want to know the truth and not trade my health away for ignorance.

    • Hi Colinda. Gosh, I did not even think of GM as General Mills– but standing for genetically modified and GMO as genetically modified organisms. See the essay on why genetically engineered food won’t feed the world here– they are currently in nearly every processed or packaged food now sold. And since Monsanto has fought this issue so hard and successfully, none of them are labeled. I have no idea what the 2010 deadline was referring to.

    • Colinda,
      It is sad that you have to research your foods before you can eat them. What you think is healthy, really isn’t healthy. I don’t think manufacturers want the consumers to know the truth about foods, we would be too shocked. The only way to know what you are eating is to grow the foods yourself. Anyone can grow a garden, but most Americans choice not too. There are community gardens in cities and local farmers markets also. Americans have become so fast paced that we think McDonald’s is Old McDonald’s farm that offers all the basic food groups. I have friends who their kids don’t even know what a carrot is, let alone know how it is grown. How can we put a price on what we are teaching our kids values, it’s priceless to me.

      • And the next best way to understand where are food comes from besides growing it ourselves is knowing the farmer who grows it?

      • Debbie,
        I think manufactures do not want us to know the truth in fear we will not buy it. I understand what your saying about people eatting at McDonalds for I’m around teenagers who only want Taco Bell how sad is that.

        • I think we only need to take a look at Monsanto’s concerted campaign to stop labeling of their genetically engineered food to see an instance of the fear manufacturers feel about consumers getting information on their products.
          Now if only they produced products by means they knew consumers would appreciate, they should be very proud to label everything!

  182. The land was priceless to the indigenous people and it was a shame that the government couldn’t see that, but the indigenous was also seen as savages and in the way for western expansion. Americans then and now could learn a lot from the indigenous people if we would only listen. Americans tend to put a price on everything, even human life. Look at cigarette smoking, we all know it causes cancer, but somehow big business is still manufacturing them. Why aren’t they banned? The dollar has become more important than human life. To me human life should be priceless just as the land we walk on.

  183. The mindset of those natives so long ago, and some still today, was so far from the ways most westernized people think today. The last part of the essay talks about once something has a price value, it is devalued because then it can be bought. We so often hear politicians saying that human life has no price, that people cannot be bought. But, in reality, this is not true. Just as this essay points out, there are many ways in today’s world that make it clear that there is indeed a price for everything. And, it’s amazing to me, that normal everyday people are okay with this. When, I try to discuss the dangers of plastics or other products commonly used with others, so much of the time, their response is something like, “oh anything you touch these days will kill ya, so it doesn’t matter”. And, as much as people profess to care about their children, and I know they do, they are just so short-sighted. They cannot, or maybe are unwilling to, see how limiting the production of plastics and chemicals could be beneficial for future generations. It is possible to get away from supporting the industries of plastics and other harmful products, and if each of us starts by just reducing, we could eventually get to a place where plastics are produced on a minimal basis.

    • Kendra I feel your frustration as well. Why is it that we place so little value on the things that are valuable and yet other things of less importance have a greater value. The mighty conifer in my yard would fetch me probably $3,000 dollars, that is a lot of money to some. To me this tree is over a hundred years old and its worth is only that, how insulting, but just know i would not harm a needle on that tree.
      Is this any different then how parents think they are caring for their children. Either we feed them Wonder bread at 1.19 or Ezekiel bread at 4.99. We either place great value on our lives and children or we place it on material things.
      You said, ‘normal everyday people are okay with this.’ Yes, they unfortunately do not even have a clue. However, I think ‘normal’ is the wrong word just like civilized.

      • Thoughtful point about how we might more critically define both “normal” and “civilized”, Debora.
        Our culture has too often used these terms to control behavior and license abuse.

    • Or even if some see how limiting production of plastics might be beneficial for future generations (or modifying production methods might be beneficial for their workers or the current environment) they might choose not to do that if it cuts into profits– as happened a number of times in the past (see the Bill Moyers documentary, Trade Secrets:

    • Kendra- I think your comment that people say “oh anything you touch these days will kill ya, so it doesn’t matter” is important. I think people do feel overwhelmed and disempowered and do loose sight of the fact that their every day choices do matter. It is frustrating because we can do things that protect ourselves and our loved ones- such as not using plastic food containers or toys or buying organic foods. Yet, people see the problems as so large and unaddressable that they get paralyzed. I think comments like the one you mentioned are a way to mask this. At the same time, I do think people are also undereducated on the real risks of some everyday items and it can be easy to trust those big companies and government agencies that are supposed to be protecting us. If the research was conclusive, they assume, these products wouldn’t be available. Of, if only it were that easy…

      Peace, Jen

  184. I especially liked the parallel between mitigation of indigenous peoples with that of mitigation of wetlands. How true it is that mitigated wetlands have not worked nearly as well as natural ones. Why is it that we continue trying to rearrange the planet to fit our supposed needs knowing now it doesn’t serve us or our future generations? Is it just a way to keep people employed, by first messing things up just to turn around and try to fix them? I work for the United States Corp of Engineers, and trying to fix the Everglades may never really work. I hope that the example of wetland destruction ends with the Everglades and that this endangered ecosystem will put an end to all future wetland mitigation.
    In regards to the Native Indians and resettling them, is it any different than relocating a wetland? The natural wetland is there because all the elements for existence were there. The same elements were in place for the Indians as well. They live where they do because it suits their needs and had done so for thousands of years. We relocated Indians and wetlands because it suited the developer’s needs to do so.

    • I wish we had forms of employment today such as the WPA during the Depression. Here in the Northwest, we have inherited some beautiful park structures and irreplaceable oral histories that resulted from their labors.
      Just “fixing” something that could not be considered broken in its natural state (though perhaps not one hundred per cent convenient for certain humans) is another matter.
      As for the Corps of Engineers– there is much past work they did that is now being repaired here in Eugene. For instance, dredging Amazon Creek — some recovery work is being done to reshape it to a more natural configuration and replant native greenery on its edges.
      Trying to put a wetland where an ecological system did not originally fit it, does seem like an odd enterprise! On the other hand, creating “rain gardens” to take up run off from our roofs and streets seems like a great idea.

      • That is awesome that the USACE is revitalizing some of the errors or the past in Oregon. Some things can be reversed thank goodness, but can a system like the Everglades ever see its glory days? It is loaded with so many invasive species and the Burmese Python is frightening, especially since could remove the alligator which is Florida’s keystone species.

  185. This essay resonates with me!! For the past few years I have been educating myself on the toxins in our environment and explaining to others how dangerous these seemingly benign substances are. A lot of the responses are “but if they are dangerous, why are they legal?” My mother just asked me that yesterday in regards to parabens. “But if they’re so harmful, how come they’re used?” My response? “Oh, because the government seems to think that endocrine disrupters are perfectly safe in small amounts, even though that has been proven not to be the case!” Not to mention that so many substances have these as ingredients that a small amount in lotion, a small amount in shampoo, a small amount in face wash… they all add up. We need to move away from using a new substance before all the appropriate testing is done on it… and then later finding out it’s not safe at all. But truth and safety are oftentimes not the profitable route and can’t compete with big business. This is where it’s necessary to educate ourselves and speak up because the only way things can start to change is if enough people take notice and say enough is enough. We know about the dangers of BPA, so why is it still used in metal can linings??

    The issue with GMOs is scary to me too. By altering the genes in these plants leaves open the possibility of the new frankengenes outcompeting native ones which cannot come to any good in the end. I can see it leading to the demise of our native and locally adapted plants and changing the landscapes completely. Not to mention that I recently learned about a GMO that makes a plant herbicide resistant. WOW, so now not only is that plant a GMO (and who knows what that is doing to us and to nature?) BUT it’s also been heavily sprayed with herbicides that will no longer kill it, but will kill the weeds around it!! What a world.

    • I am a bit more skeptical than you on your first point, Jillian. It is not that the EPA thinks endocrine disruptors are safe in small amounts– but that the US has (largely) placed health second to industry profit. Unlike the EU, we have a “chemicals are safe until proven guilty policy” rather the precautionary principle that states we must prove something safe BEFORE it is marketed.
      We might add to that the propensity of government agencies to actually pressure scientists (in the past Bush administration, according to a survey of the Union of Concerned Scientists) to hide their research data if it is negative to industry. I highly recommend Devra Davis’ Secret History of the War on Cancer to anyone who wants to read a well documented history of dangerous chemicals known by business to be dangerous that continued to be used by the public because of effective campaigns that hid that data.
      IF the EPA says something is an endocrine disruptor in the present climate of proof, we may be sure the proof is pretty conclusive.
      We need to speak up, precisely as you indicate, to counter-balance current industry lobbyists and media campaigns.
      I agree with you on the issue of GMOs– there have been too many abuses of all kinds by Monsanto to trust much info they put out there– not to mention, the products they make.

    • Jillian,
      I agree with the point you make about truth losing out to profitability for big business, which governmental officials see as good for the economy. We have reached a point where we need to put the well-being of our planet as well as all living things above profit. We can’t afford not to consider the ill effects of chemicals found in our everyday household products. And, we certainly cannot afford to let Monsanto keep controlling what happens to the world food supply. The government has to open their eyes and realize that they have to put a stop to these mega-industries before it’s too late.

  186. It’s surprising to me, given what is known, that wetland mitigation is still allowed when wanting to develop a piece of land containing a natural wetland. But, I guess the same can be said about countless things. The “exchange” attitude is a frightening mindset when little is known about what we are accepting as a substitute, and the true cost associated with it to our health and the earth. The lack of disclosure about what we are consuming, in general, makes the jobs of consumers who want to limit/omit potentially harmful chemicals almost impossible. Now, with GMO seed flooding our farms, even produce becomes questionable.

    • I agree with you about the dangers of the “exchange” mentality.
      And whereas it is more challenging than ever to protect the environment and one’s health in modern consumer choices, I am heartened by all the volunteers who are making information about consumer products available.
      The GMO issue is a very serious one, given the propensity of genes to migrate. This makes it more essential than ever than we express our concerns on this issue known in every way possible.

  187. It is quite curious the rationale of these treaties. They ask the Natives to share the land with the newcomers yet in order for them to “share” the newcomers want them (Natives) to move. The newcomers could have found a rightful spot in the reservations created by them. I have a 5 year old, and that is not how I teach him to share!
    This worldview and putting a price on life is taking away from us what it means to be human…a conscience. You can see it in the Aspartame and MSG in hundreds of food items, the structure of the public school system, and corupt government officials.
    Just as in the film about the Gamo people of Africa, big Agriculture is a wolf in sheeps clothing with only profits and control in mind, not the food needs of peoples around the world. It is a big eyeopener learning how they are running the meat/dairy/poultry productions. Feeding grains laden with antibiotics and meat are fed to cows, pigs, and chickens, cutting the chickens’ beaks off so as they stop pecking each other because of cramped quarters, and the terrible facts go on and on. There is some good information about this and Monsanto in “The Future of Food” to anyone who wants to know what is in the food you eat and the severe lack of a conscience of big AG companies.

    • Good point on sharing, Melissa. It is telling how transparent such moral issues become when we parallel them to the behavior we would wish from our children.
      “The Future of Food” is an excellent film.
      I think you have an important point in indicating that our conscience is what makes us human– and we can only exercise ethical choices if we have basic information about the results of our actions. That’s why films such as this, as you indicate, are important.

  188. It seems the current attempt to reconcile our worldview of nature with its very aparent ill effects is through mitigation. The reality is that this is merely a way for us to ease our concern and perhaps guilt over our treatment of the narural world. Although to those unfamiliar with the complex funtions and intimate relationships between components of an ecosystem, one piece of land may seem identical to another, but to those living closely with the land and ecologists know that each forest, desert, and wetland is inherently unique.
    There are many who feel that we should be creating markets values for natural resources which reflect the true cost of amenities, ecosystem services, and ecosystem health. Although this is not a merging of worldviews it is a start and a beginning of modern economics seeing beyond one use and value for that use.

    • Good observation that a sophisticated and intimate view of a particular landscape tell us that none can be readily exchanged for another.
      At least valuing ecosystem services may be a start in making us aware of the nature of what we waste in certain kinds of development– see the essay here on “Attending to the Commons” on this issue.
      Thanks for your comment.

  189. Something that I in particular can relate to in this article is its statement on how it is dangerous and unwise to create something that we cannot fully comprehend or control-a case in point would also be the artificial genes in certain plants. I happen to lean more towards keeping things natural in regards to genetic engineering (I am rather uncomfortable with “treading on the toes of God”, as the saying is), and therefore can relate to the cautionary messages the article presents in those regards.

    • I absolutely agree Thomas. I don’t believe that it is in the greatest interest of man to go messing with evolution (remember the movie Little Shop of Horrors?). Gene manipulation is unfortunately starting to affect a larger portion of the natural world (i.e. salmon and crops) with unknown consequences. I think it’s best if we leave it to natural selection to decide what belongs here and what doesn’t.

    • You are not alone in this, Thomas– it seems to take more than a bit of hubris to tinker with the essentials of creation in such a haphazard way.

  190. It is utterly appalling how the government has and continues to treat Native Americans. Bribing them with gold and putting them on a boat until they agree to the government’s terms — it’s as if Stevens is punishing recalcitrant children. It is despicable. Never once taking the time to even begin to understand the connectedness to the land that is so embedded in Native American culture, the people were just expected to do what they were told without question. And sadly this mindset continues today. Forests are destroyed for the economic price of the timber they hold, wetlands are covered over to produce money making strip malls, beaches are taken over by condos and tourist hotspots — all with little thought to the ecological and spiritual price being paid. I would must rather see the beauty of a wild place.

    • It is too often true that the way a culture treats the natural parallels the way in which it treats “other” humans as well. Neither of these seems to me to be expressive of justice.

  191. I have often sat in confusion, trying to understand the economics of the earth–how supply and demand can be determined for living and breathing ecosystems. The objectification of the earth has unjustly forced our own survival into a marketplace clouded with price tags, savings, and interest rates. Capitalists have done their best to place monetary values on “priceless” subjects, such as clean air and unaltered land, subjects that historically did not have anything to do with the dollar bill or credit. The transition from bartering and hunter-gathering systems to a scheme of coins and incomes has been paved with negative consequences. How do native cultures, having very little understanding of financial systems or the language behind them, adapt to a new world of land boundaries, titles, and subsidies? A book by Joseph Marshall, “To You We Shall Return,” explains the historic and contemporary issues faced by Lakota peoples as they move, adapt, and/or die as a result of the disturbance that is and was capitalism. In response to an email I sent the author of this book, he said “One thing about the past, we have the right to revisit it or not, but keep in mind it is a part of what you are. The more you know about it, the more you know about yourself.” His website is

    • John, thanks for the post and the novel recommendation. What a great quote by the author. I think as we look around the world and ask how did this or that occur again, I think all we have to do is realize that people chose not to revisit the past and now must suffer the consequences as it is now part of them. What a dangerous legacy we can leave by ignoring our pas. It sometimes seems that humankind is on this path. We continually make decisions that seem to lack historical contemplation. This tells is much about ourselves and our lack of care or interest in leaving a positive legacy behind.

      • Good reminder about the dangerous legacy we leave for the future when we ignore the past: we must embrace a broader view of time in order to assume responsibility for our actions, not to mention to retain the wisdom passed between generations that makes us human (and on which our ancestors survived).

    • I had not heard of Joesph Marshall, John. I will certainly visit his work when I get a chance. Once result of this “new” world seemed to me to be an insecurity some native peoples had not previously felt. Previously, there had been a conviction that when a person died, his spirit would be honored as an ancestor, as his people would continue.
      This type of stability and security is something we little imagine in the contemporary age.
      Thanks for your comment here.

    • An essay on this website, entitled, “Why Native American Wisdom can Heal the World”– certainly our earth needs all such wisdom and the healing that flows from it that we can garner.

  192. I understand that a capitalistic society runs on the premise that everything of value can be exchanged for the right price, but how do we as a people decide which are the things that have so much value they’re nonexchangeable? I think it’s pretty agreeable that things such as personal health and liberty are items that are priceless, so what will it take for us to recognize that the health of the environment deserves the same value as the health of an individual. As people and ecosystems are increasingly marginalized for profits I think that society will be forced to put more emphasis on what they feel is priceless. Who knows maybe in 20 years the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency will be a bigger proportion than the Department of Defense.

    • You have hit on the key point with respect to our propensity to price things, Aaron– how do we come to an agreement about those things too precious to price, since they are too precious to exchange for something else– like the air we breathe?
      Wouldn’t that be wonderful if the EPA would be our biggest government dependent– after all, what is more necessary to our future security than protecting the land that sustains us?

    • Yes, and I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that the health of an individual isn’t valued. You would think that proper health care and health education would be a priority to prevent illness and disease, but unfortunately it isn’t. Instead, more and more people are becoming sick and then lack the means to do much of anything about it.
      I too hope that the EPA becomes a more prominent agency in our government!

      • I recently heard a statistic that the majority of foreclosures in Lane County are due to bills for health care– and the overwhelming number of those losing their home because of bills for an illness have some form of health insurance, it just has too many uncovered portions and co-pays.
        Strengthening the EPA (passing the Safe Chemicals Act its director, Lisa Jackson, has been lobbying for; bringing back the labs that allow for independent testing of toxics, etc.) could take a dent out of those health care bills by decreasing the huge costs of largely environmental illnesses like cancer and asthma.

  193. This article highlights many of the largest problems that we face today as a civilization. From unknown use of genetically engineered genes, to grossly worrisome issues of plastic in our oceans, to the lack of understanding regarding a spirit for the land. We face so many obstacles as we attempt to come back from the brink of our own destruction. I do not understand how we continue to allow chemicals, drugs, and other lightly tested items to enter our supply chains on a constant basis. The extent or our cultures lassiz Faire attitude of these matters astounds me. I find it even more upsetting when I see that companies easily put a price on a human life too. As if a human life is a comodity to be bought and sold, or destroyed. We all have unalienable rights, but those rights need to include our a shift to include all or aspects of the indigineous worldview. Because we all are unique and we can’t exchange places or replace lands for another.

    • Those things confound me as well, Travis. I don’t understand how so much is allowed to go into our “supply chains”, and why this is allowed to continue. It is encouraging that progress is being made, but I wonder how much harm has already been done that we will never be able to directly trace.

    • Thanks for your comment, Travis. It think you have a point in that many of the problems we face today are tied up in the business of pricing everything– and objectifying and abstracting it in the “exchange” process as well.
      But not only each human but each life holds a distinctive place in the circle of living things.

  194. As with many perspectives, this article definitely hits a chord. The most important thing on Stevens’ mind was to get a treaty, to gain control of the land so it could be settled and developed. The bottom line is many during that time did not even attempt to understand the metaphysical world and how it impacted indigenous people. We were set on one thing. I agree that today that mentality is still there, profit and convenience often outweigh the thought of impact on nature or health. People are often not thinking beyond their own needs or own pocket books, so as the article says we move into dangerous territory not really knowing how we affect our world. Not really.

    • You raise a good issue that when we set our minds on one (self-serving monetary) thing, we easily miss others– including, perhaps, our own better humanity.

  195. Anther parallel I drew from this article is carbon trading. If we put a price on pollution, then if I create less of what I am “allowed to generate” I can sell that excess allowance to someone else who is generating even more pollution. How does anyone really see this as a solution for the long-term? What if we all just generated less, and nobody hit their “allowable” amounts? And how do we even know what is allowable in terms of pollution? The Earth is a complex system and we don’t always know how things will affect each other! So now clean air has a price too- as well as our climate, I guess. In some sense, it is a logical extension of the practices mentioned in this essay- of putting prices on Native people’s lands and that we can exchange one parcel of land for another, like they are lego pieces. Yet, these things are not quantifiable in the same way that a bushel of apples is. Can I count how many breaths of fresh, clean air I would like for my family and put a price on that? (well, I guess they do have those Oxygen bars in some places now too- yikes!) Or how many days a year I would like my grandchildren to be able to be safely outside in their childhood that I can pay for up front as a carbon savings account? Where does it stop?

    Peace, Jen

    • Good perceptions about what is not quantifiable, Jen. Carbon trading is of concern to me as well– Congressmen Peter deFazio had a very good discussion of this in a past newsletter along the lines that you bring up and more– though I am not sure the issue is currently covered on his website. I have heard from some that it might be good for the Northwest in that it is a way to price the value of our native forests.
      Your issue seems to be why would we have to price these living ecosystems that give us the air we breathe?

    • I like how you describe the land perception as “Lego” pieces that can be traded around. Legos are tiny identical blocks that don’t vary much in size or color. This homogenized approach is the way that some would choose to view our environment. As if all parts were interchangeable, separable. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially, when you look at so many of the world’s special places like Antarctica or the Galapagos. These habitats took unconscionable amounts of time to develop such unique species. What kind of Lego piece would they be in the grand scheme of things.

      • Thanks for adding more reminders to our discussion about the inability of simply abstracted something (into a price, a mathematical formula, an “x” in a scientific law or a lego) and assuming we trade all those “x’s” or dollars for one another.

  196. It’s hard to escape the type of consumerism attitude that puts a price on anything. Those at the very top of the pyramid with the most money will always remove their problems to those on the bottom because anything can be bought after all. Security, health, a clean environment, these are things that have a price in the current economic and political climate. I think Mies and Shiva stated it best when they stated that the “maldeveloped” nations have a “schizophrenic, double-think” mind set and I feel that this thought process is bolstered by the pricing of the priceless. If anything can be bought and sold nothing is irreplaceable thus the damaged environment can be bought and sold until it is fixed. The health risks, disease, war, and famine that follows a crumbling planet can be bought and sold again until it is fixed. This sort of attitude requires no real effort and maintains the status quo while hindering true progress. To illustrate this I’m including a link to a clip from one of my favorite movies, Disney’s WALL-E (you can ponder this irony later). It’s a commercial for the corporation that essentially owns Earth and ends up destroying it. One of the lines is “Happiness is what we sell…”.

    • Thanks for sharing this important perspective here, Lindsay. I have not seen this movie, though I have read a number of reviews of it. It is encouraging when mass media offers us a self-critical perspective on ourselves– something we sorely need if we are going to make wise decisions.
      Ironic that this commercial is part of an “entertainment” mode–but then anciently stories passed between generations with their lessons were also entertaining.

  197. This was a very good article full of information. I especially liked reading about the European Unions REACH program, and I hope the US will follow in its footsteps and test chemicals before releasing them into products/environment. I also think it is important not to create something we can’t contain, or that we haven’t tested to make sure it is safe. Plastics are a huge issue for our environment and for everything that calls this planet home. I wonder what things would have been like if we had a program like REACH before chlorine and BPA destroyed our earth and our bodies?

    • You raise a key issue here, Maddy. There is no reason to repeat the problems we have made for ourselves and living systems in the past when there is an opportunity to be proactive and prevent such harms on the front end instead.

  198. It seems like the media is bound and determined to scare us. The new craze seems to be zombies. AOL constantly has scary stories about some animal that is frightening. The irony is that the media is nowhere to be found when it comes to terrifying stories that should be told. I am referring to the different examples of plastics, such as that baby bottles leach plastics into the baby’s milk. I was immensely horrified that all human bodies now contain plastics. Should the new name for humans be homo suicidious?

    • One thing media has discovered is that stories that incite adrenaline responses in the audience are more likely to sell products. Also, it seems that audiences can get a psychological rush from such stories that may even be addictive (or at the very least an antidote to the daily humdrum of many lives).
      Thanks for your comment.

  199. Most people see land as something you own, just like a car or a phone. It isn’t something to be cherished, it just gives you status. However, the Native Americans had a connection with their land and when the pioneers arived, they just couldn’t grasp that. If “home is where the heart is”, then the land held the heart of the Native Americans… the land lived, breathed and beat for them. I can definitely identify with this. I have lived on the same property my entire life on Tiger Mountain in Washington state. I have lived short term in other areas, but I always feel that living there on that mountain is my home. If my parents ever talk about selling the house (which my father built by himself) I get fiercely defensive and say they just cannot do that! My heart belongs there.

    • I very much like your description of land as something to be “cherished” rather than owned.
      What a powerful connection of heart and land– and vision of the way we might relate to the world of life if we all saw and treated land as something to be cherished.
      Your family home must be quite lovely. I’m glad you are speaking up for continuing to keep it in your family and care for it.

    • They see everything as a possesion whether they own it or want to own it. Nobody realizes that you can’t claim nature because it has been here before any of us were so how can you claim something that has been here longer then you yourself. Indians cherrished the land to help them survive, but never claimed it as their own. When it’s something that is close to you such as this piece of land that you’ve been on ever since you were young, it makes you feel like you share a connection with the land due to all the time spent on it.

    • The Native Americans do have a great connection with their land, and we need to learn from this. Today society is always trying to buy up all the land. In 2002 in Malibu, David Geffen was having work done on his house, when he decided to have a gate built to block the public access path to the beach. Geffen suited and not in till 2005 the court orders him to take down the gate. Also many other celebrities that live in Malibu did place a fence up to block public access to the beach and added no trespassing signs, which later was told to remove, since this is the public’s beach. This is an example of the rich thinking they own the beach.

      • Too bad we have an economic culture in which money and power are so connected– as in our current congressional lobbies. I am heartened by the hundreds who traveled recently to the Oregon State Legislature to lobby for universal health care. Perhaps such mass information sharing on the part of those who put them in office is the most effective counter we have to the money other lobbyists are pouring into our representatives’ coffers.

    • White man was filled with greed when they took the lands from the Native Americans. It definitely when they didn’t uphold their end of the treaty and now there are only a few Native Americans left in the country and they are considered minority when they should have been considered as part of the majority.

  200. I feel the same way as the Pacific Northwest – land is priceless. I remember the problems with the Pinto and the exploding gas tank; we called the car the exploding Pinto. Corporations are always trying to get out of paying for their mistakes, and not valuing people’s lives. As corporations continue to lobby the government to use toxic chemicals in many of our products. European countries have high regard for human life, with high standards on their products to protect the consumer.

    • Thoughtful points, Kim. And there are also mistakes that one cannot pay for with money afterwards–but instead with lessons learned that teach us precaution beforehand.
      If we destroy our soil, for instance, no amount of technology with allow us to feed ourselves.

  201. Reading about BPA and platic is disheartening. It’s something that we depend on because in the medical field, it can be used to save lives or make life better and it’s harmful for us at the same time. Is there such a thing as plastic that is BPA free?

  202. The manufacturers of plastic bottles should be required to used plastic that can biodegrade in a year. When you think about it do we really want soda, water, shampoo, toothpaste, food That has been sitting in a plastic bottle for more than a year? This technology is available already, why don’t they use it?
    To me the moving of the native people from the land is like cutting off someone’s arm. They have been there for generations. They work with the land and animals to live sustainably. They have in a way become part of the land. It is sad to think that people are really able to rationalize that anything can be bought with money. These people were the land and knew that they could not just leave.

    • Thoughtful point about biodegradable plastic, Laura. It is my understanding that plastic never really biodegrades– though some is made to break into smaller and smaller pieces- that is the kind we call biodegradable. But we ingest these small particles in our air and water–and they stay in the soil and the sea where other creatures ingest them. Thus our bodies are currently made of up a certain percentage of plastic.
      My sense is that what we need is to use less of the stuff. That is why I am behind the plastic bag ban in my city and many cities throughout the nation. I have seen plastic put to good recycled uses, such as making benches and lumber. This is great, but all in all, we need to stop making so much.
      I know that the biodegradable throwaway plates and spoons and bags currently made are made from things like corn starch or cellulose (made into cellophane) and this can be composted. If it can’t be composted, it is not biodegradable, as far as I am concerned.
      Indigenous peoples do indeed have a connection to their land that cannot be paid for… it would change many of our actions if all of us had the same connection to the land.

      • I hate plastic. I try not to use it whenever I can avoid it. I went to the store the other day, and normally I bring my bags but this day I had forgotten to so I usually would ask for no bag and just carry my items out in my arms. I had a couple too many, so I asked the cashier to just put them all in one bag, which I could carry in my arms and not from the handles. She put my items all in one bag, and as I was about to pick it up, she took it back and double bagged it. I said no really, I don’t want all that plastic, I can hold it from the bottom so it doesn’t spill out. So then, she takes it and puts it in A THIRD plastic bag, to which I said I REALLY would like only ONE bag, and to NOT WASTE any more plastic. It’s killing our environment and I would like to do my part to save our earth. She looked at me like I was crazy. This is generally the sentiment here in north Florida, and I assume most places yet. I ‘d love to live somewhere that people had a clue, I do long for that. I am a hippy in a sea of non-hippies! 🙂

        • Sounds like a bit of a comedy of errors with the clerk–obviously, she did not understand your priorities. Perhaps it registered at some level.
          You will be glad to hear that there are municipal ordinances springing up around the US that ban the use of plastic bags for groceries– Eugene, Oregon, where I live, is one– the no plastic bag ordinance just took effect on May 1.

  203. I have a friend who works for Shell doing chemical engineering. He is a bonafide genius who spends his ‘spare time’ (he has two kids and owns a home) on activities like designing and writing a computer program that plays chess because he wanted to learn the game better. That is just one example that comes to mind. He is an extreme autodidact and one of the subjects he’s taken an interest in is GMOs. In a recent conversation he gave me one of the best arguments I’ve heard against GMOs. I’m definitely not going to do his argument justice but I’ll summarize in layman’s terms the best I can. He explained that our DNA uses ‘coders’ (I think they’re actually called codons) to recognize amino acids that enter our bodies and form proteins in certain shapes, the wrong shape and they don’t work. Our DNA is pre-programmed so to say to recognize certain chemicals and when we introduce something it doesn’t recognize, like a GMO, we can get misshaped proteins that don’t work the way their supposed to in our bodies. The fact is a lot of times science doesn’t know how these mutated proteins will actually effect us. Whoa, scary stuff! Even more, science still can’t tell us 100% how DNA works, so naturally we go messing around with it anyways. The point is he refuses to feed his family or himself with GM food as much as he can avoid it, not because of advertising or listening to someone else’s argument against GMOs, but because of the SCIENCE he has researched himself and that is pretty darn convincing to me!

    The point about everything being replaceable reminded of an infuriating conversation I had with my brother-in-law who hails from a conservative mid-western family. He actually said he didn’t believe we were killing the planet. After I convinced him that we were indeed killing the planet and that it wasn’t some hippy liberal scheme he said that it’s “ok because technology will save us”. I know that the concept of weak sustainability is out there but I can’t believe people truly think it’s an option. I like to give this little vignette when I run into a weak sustainability supporter: if technological capital could replace all of natural capital, or if technology could replace all ecosystem processes and services then we could live on Mars unsupported, indefinitely.

    I never understood when or why humanity stopped valuing life and started valuing human created ‘things’. Your idea that placing a value on priceless life devalues it is a thoughtful one. A very interesting idea when considered in the context of today’s struggle to value intrinsic ecosystem services that don’t fit into the monetary market under the argument that in order to convince people to conserve these services they must value them and to value them they must be labeled with a value.

    • Thanks for sharing your points here, Erin. Just as the case with our DNA and its complex “keys” (codons), GMOs that get into our ecosystems (as they do, since genes migrate– they do not stay within bodies of animals or plants) and don’t fit anywhere are at the very least in need of more study until we understand just what they will do to the natural pool of DNA–and at the most clearly dangerous.
      One of the problematic concepts associated with our current technology is the ignoring of the time sense of things– both in the precautionary principle in terms of caring for the future–and the time density it took for the diversity of natural lives to get worked out in the balanced sharing of ecosystems.
      Fooling around with the building blocks of life–and throwing changed ones into our ecosystems expecting instant adaptation flows from a worldview that is a bit naive about the world’s time–and is trained to expect “instant” results from modern media–and a history which attempts to abandon the past (a bit of irony there, yes?)
      Reducing living beings to priced quantities is a way of “valuing” them by objectifying them– and incidentally, I think, part of the thinking that GMOs are okay without further testing– that is, this flows from the idea that the world is made of moveable and quantifiable blocks or pieces we can number and move around at will.
      In terms of weak sustainability, there is some than a little self-destructive hubris in the idea that we can do away with the sources of our sustenance without doing ourselves in.

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