native americans, ecology and burning man

There’s a thread on LiveJournal regarding a recent Burner party that was shut down by Native American groups who were offended by a “go native” party theme. The thread can be found here:

Part of the discussion includes deriding the ‘leave no trace’ policy, and this comment was made by the original poster:

The site is visible on Google Earth and it’s kinda obvious that they have left a trace and the micro-ecosystem directly under the surface will never recover

I responded:

The site is visible on Google Earth because they took an aerial photo during the event. If you took a picture now it would probably not show up, perhaps just a faint trace of the roads. The cleanup crew does an insanely good job.

There basically is no ecosystem anyway, nothing lives out there but a few bugs. It’s some sort of ecosystem, but not a very interesting one.

Original poster responded thusly:

Are you actually implying that only interesting ecosystems deserve to exist unmolested? Your neighborhood may seem kinda uninteresting to some people, can they come trash it?

I wrote back (and this is the good part, why I’m sharing it here)

Well, I live in downtown Los Angeles. Whatever ecosystem used to be here was destroyed over a hundred years ago, and people come through here every day and throw their trash out. I found a used hypodermic on the street just a day or two ago. Heck, the river I live next to has been paved.

So, yeah, come trash my neighborhood, I’d be cool with that. Better yet, come clean it up the way that we do after the Burn, that would kick some ass.

People have to live, eat, play somewhere. I am sympathetic to the need for natural ecosystems to exist, but quite frankly, I’m more concerned about the needs of humans than any specific bit of the animal kingdom. We come first, and if you could ask the bears and the bugs, they’d put their own needs first. They’re just not smart enough to do much about it.

You think the native americans really left no trace? Ha. No, there just weren’t enough of them (yet) when Europeans arrived for it to look like they left much trace. They left plenty of traces – burial mounds, trash dumps that archaeologists continue to find. Give them another 500 years to discover fossil fuels and it would have been a very different story. I’m certain Native Americans would have sailed to England and taken over without a hint of shame – probably, given the mindset, they would have built their factories in Europe to keep their sacred land clean.

Humans affect their ecosystem, just as every other living thing does. We’re a bit out of control about it, I confess, but we can’t live without having an affect any more than a fox can live without eating rabbits. We MUST leave a mark somewhere. Go bitch about burning down the rainforests – that’s a complex ecosystem with a lot of life, and we’re doing a lot of damage. The Black Rock desert is hardly any more lively than the moon. The only way we won’t molest any ecosystem is to pack up, leave the planet, and live in spaceships, but even then I’m sure someone will say we’re destroying the asteroid belt.

Where should 50,000 people gather for a week? Have you got a better spot? Or, perhaps, we just don’t have the right do that at all anywhere? Maybe we should tear down the permanent cities first, disassemble the bridges and dams, and commit mass suicide?

Of all the things that man has done, and continues to do to nature, Burning Man is quite possibly the least intrusive.

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