Disney’s Pocahontas: Ignorant of Her Own People’s Culture and History

Above via Cheezburger.

From Disney’s Pocahontas:

Colours of the Wind

You think I’m an ignorant savage
And you’ve been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don’t know?
You don’t know…

You think you own whatever land you land on
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know

And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is earth, until
You can paint… With all the colors… Of the wind

Pocahontas seems quite clueless about Native American methods of land management, as they had regularly set fire to entire forests in order to turn it into grassland suitable for the kind of animals they hunted:

The most significant type of environmental change brought about by Precolumbian human activity was the modification of vegetation. … Vegetation was primarily altered by the clearing of forest and by intentional burning. Natural fires certainly occurred but varied in frequency and strength in different habitats. Anthropogenic fires, for which there is ample documentation, tended to be more frequent but weaker, with a different seasonality than natural fires, and thus had a different type of influence on vegetation. The result of clearing and burning was, in many regions, the conversion of forest to grassland, savanna, scrub, open woodland, and forest with grassy openings.

The modification of the American continent by fire at the hands of Asian immigrants [now called American Indians, Native Americans, or First Nations/People] was the result of repeated, controlled, surface burns on a cycle of one to three years, broken by occasional holocausts from escape fires and periodic conflagrations during times of drought.

Even under ideal circumstances, accidents occurred: signal fires escaped and campfires spread, with the result that valuable range was untimely scorched, buffalo driven away, and villages threatened. Burned corpses on the prairie were far from rare.

So extensive were the cumulative effects of these modifications that it may be said that the general consequence of the Indian occupation of the New World was to replace forested land with grassland or savanna, or, where the forest persisted, to open it up and free it from underbrush. Most of the impenetrable woods encountered by explorers were in bogs or swamps from which fire was excluded; naturally drained landscape was nearly everywhere burned.

Conversely, almost wherever the European went, forests followed. The Great American Forest may be more a product of settlement than a victim of it.

It’s probably because Pocahontas, as the chief’s favoured daughter, didn’t help out much with all that dreary land clearing, planting and harvesting. Must have been too busy looking for river bends while everyone else was busy working:

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3 Responses to “Disney’s Pocahontas: Ignorant of Her Own People’s Culture and History”

  1. Snake Oil Baron Says:

    In addition to managing game species, some of these cultures also used fire to keep areas of land in a savanna-like state which promoted the growth of nut bearing trees and other resources that were favorable to human hunter gatherer societies. Rather than be proud of using accumulated knowledge to have manipulated the world so as to survive and thrive in a harsh environment, (with occasional mishaps like out of control fires) a myth of passively harmonious natives with moral superiority, living in an Eden until the evil whites slithered in and brought about their fall was preferred. This eco-worship does much to prevent natives from prospering. The natives were right to modify the land to suit their needs. They are just wrong to deny it and be ashamed of it.

    While it is conceivable that modern human populations may reduce in fertility enough, increase agricultural productivity enough and urbanize enough for hunter/gatherers to again acquire enough land to flourish, the choice will be to return to a life of no modern medicine and where populations were controlled via starvation, combat and infanticide (after killing all the Mennonites of course) or to move off the reservations and join the industrialized world. Living halfway in and halfway out of the industrialized world is going to keep them in reservation based poverty.

  2. Astonished! Says:

    I am speechless! Really! Astonished!
    Scott Thong, your sources for all these statements you present are? The ONE article that you link to?
    “Burned corpses on the prairie were far from rare.”
    There is a wealth of archeoligical evidence to support this? If so, please, enlighten us, name your sources.
    As for “Asian immigrants [now called American Indians, Native Americans, or First Nations/People]”
    Do I detect a racist sub-context to your piece? Of course America was colonised in remote history by another people. In the same way that most of the world was colonised by people from elsewhere….the prevailing theory is that our earliest human ancestors walked out of Africa….and colonised the world. Your point regarding “Asian immigrants” in the American continent IS?
    You also fail to provide any framework of time within which the “burn back” of nature occurs? Shall we consider this to be a development of Aboriginal American land management technique? developing from what? and when? Was it widespread across the American continent or were there regional differences? Are you arguing that before the activities of Aboriginal Americans and indeed as a result of their activities that American Prarie was in fact all forest?
    I am not so sure whether it is the writer or the article that is poorly informed as to be honest, it provides no real information.
    Of course, perhaps I am missing the point entirely.
    The article essentially pulls the Disney cartoon Pocahontas apart as “Disney’s Pocahontas: Ignorant of Her Own People’s Culture and History”
    although works of popular fiction can also be usefull as Historical and anthropological sources, to expect a Disney childrens cartoon to be historically accurate is more than a little naive.
    After all, far more contemporary sources exist for London England and the Virginian colonies in the late 16th Century than for aboriginal american agricultural technique across the whole continent and yet Disney STILL fail to portray any of these with any historic realism either.
    I would really suggest finding alternative historical or anthropological sources than Disney should you wish to discover more about the world.

  3. Scott Thong Says:

    Excellent timing. I had just come across new evidence that the land was being toasted not only by the North American natives, but also the South Americans!

    And, um… I would really suggest you turn down the I ARE SERIOUS CAT THIS IS SERIOUS THREAD knob a bit. At level 11, you may also detect hidden railing against the inclusion of pagan nature spirits in the children’s movie, which as anyone knows CAUSES ETERNAL DAMNATION TO VIEWERS!!!!!one!

    I so apologize that the Wikipedia article I ripped off has Asian supremacist racist sub-context. But yeah, I am totally racist… See how I rail against another evil cartoon, or rather the poster of, Kung Fu Panda.

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