ABSTRACT

P erhaps no aspect of American Studies has given rise to moremisinformation and misunderstanding than the history, culture, and place of Native Americans in American society. It is a subject on

which contrasting assumptions have clouded both public consciousness and

academia. Most date back to earlier centuries and yet they still have a cur-

rency in modern America. European philosophers of the fifteenth and six-

teenth centuries popularised the image of the noble savage: brave, stoic and

honourable, who lived harmoniously in an Eden-like America untainted

by the contaminating influences of civilisation. This European construct

served as a foil against which whites could criticise their own society, a strat-

egy that has persisted throughout the centuries. A fear of becoming over-

civilised in the 1890s encouraged a renewed love affair with noble savages,

as demonstrated, for example, by the formation of the Boy Scouts move-

ment. In the 1970s concern over pollution led white Americans to appro-

priate the image of the American Indian as the face of environmentalism.