For this blog post I decided to focus on the Michael F. Brown reading. In general I found this reading very interesting and different from other material assigned in this course. Through this reading we are given an example of the politics of how space is interpreted and used.
The reading introduces two different American landmarks, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The issue pointed out is that different groups within Wyoming and the rest of the United States have very different associations, as well as uses for these sites. For Native Americans both sites are considered to be sacred and important culturally. Similarly, other groups of Americans view these two sites as culturally significant historical landmarks. Both sites are important tourist destinations in Wyoming and over time the effects of high traffic have taken toll on them. Again, the issue lies within the specific use and interpretation of both sites. While various Native American groups believe they have a cultural and ancestral claim on these sites, other groups believe they have just as much of a claim. It poses the question of who exactly owns what is considered to be native culture?
As mentioned in the reading the federal government controls 50% of land use in Wyoming (Brown 2003: 149). For years there have been negotiations between the government (forest services) and the Native American groups. Certain changes suggested by the American government breached American rights that are outlined in the constitution (Brown 2003: 157) This in turn resulted in negative reactions from other communities. Some individuals even felt that the government was working too hard to help the minority and not the majority (Brown 2003:155). As a historic landmark, it can be argued that this site should belong to all Americans. However, since Native American groups have ancestral claims on both sites and consider them to be spiritually significant their claim can taken more seriously. In this case there are two main groups of people affected by these two spaces, Native Americans and non-Native Americans.
I believe in situations like the one presented in the reading it is difficult to please all of the parties. In the end the courts opted for a P.C. Volunteerism approach (Brown 2003:171 ) in controlling both sites. This approach kindly asks visitors of the site to respect it’s significance to the Native American community and according to the reading it seems to be working.
I think I will end my blog post here, here are some questions to open up discussion in the comments section. Do you think volunteerism was the right decision in regards to the use of these sites? How would you interpret the situation to please both parties? Considering both sites are Native American , do you believe enough importance was given to them and their culture in the decision making process?
Brown, Michael F.
2003 “Negotiating Respect.” Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Who Owns Native Culture? Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
P.s. I suggest a quick Wikipedia search of the sites to those reading the chapter for a quick breakdown. Additionally, I am not an expert in American policy so there may be some stuff I missed, please feel free to comment below with anything I missed.
P.P.S. I wish you all luck on the rough drafts of your paper!