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History Compass


Whereas most histories of national parks and indigenous peoples have largely focused on dispossession of resident populations in the making of uninhabited wilderness areas, this article surveys the problematic history of the idea of preserving human communities today referred to as ‘indigenous’ in parks. In the very first-ever call for a national park, as well as in frequent proposals for national parks throughout the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st century, protected areas have been envisioned as places of conservation, study, and display not only of endangered species but also of human groups perceived to be endangered. Drawing on cases from the early United States, colonial Africa, Indonesia, and India, as well as on histories of international conservation policies emerging around WWI, the article argues that this alternative conception of what national parks should look like has been pervasive, perennial, and deeply problematic. The problem is not only that indigenous groups have long been perceived as in danger of becoming extinct and therefore paternalistically projected as in need of protection. It is also that these peoples, who have long suffered dehumanizing animal analogies, are envisioned as endangered like wildlife, and in need of protection in parks.