The image of western Indians as iconic hunters and gatherers may constitute the upstreaming of a post-contact state of crisis caused by the displacement and violence that had robbed Indians of the environmental infrastructure that had sustained their lives. In fact, many western Indians were no longer even in their pre-contact environment. The paper highlights western Indians’ experience as refugees trying to make a living by any means. A second theme is to assess the extent to which the western Indians constructed and maintained environmental infrastructure despite having been displaced relatively recently. A final topic is to ascertain to what degree the western Indians’ environmental infrastructure was both an object and subject of violence in the 18th-19th centuries. An explicit focus on the consequences of war and displacement not only helps to explain the overexploitation of such environmental resources as beaver and buffalo, but also highlights how capturing existing environmental infrastructure from others was a critical shortcut that enabled refugees and colonists to secure new lives and livelihoods. The appropriation of environmental infrastructure was extremely violent because it pitted refugees and migrants against established populations or other refugees. The plight of the western Indians also demonstrates that they were simultaneously victims and agents of history: they experienced social and environmental collapse and reinvented themselves and their environment not once, but twice or even three times during the course of a century.
Emmanuel Kreike, a citizen of the Netherlands, has a Ph.D. in African history from Yale University (1996) and a Ph.D. in tropical forestry from the School of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University (2006), the Netherlands. His research and teaching interests focus on the intersection of war/violence, population displacement, environment, and society. He is particularly interested in how violence (including, for example, colonial conquest, the apartheid wars, slave raiding) and ensuing forced migration led to the destruction of human landscapes and how people rebuild lives and livelihoods in often alien environments. He has taught courses in African history and environmental history at Princeton University as well as courses in forestry and environmental sciences in Namibia and South Africa. He is the author of Environmental Infrastructure in African History: Examining the Myth of Natural Resource Management in Namibia (Cambridge University Press, 2013); Deforestation and Reforestation in Namibia: The Global Consequences of Local Contradictions (Brill and Markus Wiener, 2010); Re-Creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia (Heinemann, 2004); and the co-editor (with Bill Jordan) of Corrupt Histories (University of Rochester Press, 2004).