March 27, 2009

Burns on our national parks

Ken Burns turns his focus to national parks and will be part of a Dallas forum TuesdayThe press notes included the phrase "crass opportunism" when describing the content, which is not something you tend to think of with national parks.

Well, the national parks are the antidote to that. Americans are an extractive and inquisitive people. And some would say rapacious. The national parks are these oases that have checked that, at least in some small places around our beautiful country, and didn’t permit the river to be dammed, didn’t allow the timber to be cut, didn’t allow the canyon to be mined. They didn’t happen just because somebody said, "It’s a good idea." They had to meet those forces of crass opportunism and fight against them. And that’s part of the drama.

This is going to be chronological, like most of your projects. Could you have done it geographically?

You can always tell history: "and then, and then, and then, and then." I’m a storyteller, and stories take place in time. When you segregate things into regions, you begin to lose stuff. We tell it from the moment when the Mariposa Battalion walks into—they didn’t even call it Yosemite yet. The one person whose jaw dropped when they walked into that particular valley misunderstood the name of the tribe they’d come to dispossess, and thought they ought to name it after that tribe. But in fact, the tribe was the Ahwahneechee, and Yosemite means, 'They are killers,’ 'They are people you need to be fearful of.’ Which is exactly what the Ahwahneechee needed to feel from these soldiers coming to dispossess them of a homeland they enjoyed for generations.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Ken Burns and Indians, Again and Review of American Indians and National Parks.

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