THE TAINTED DESERT by Valerie L. Kuletz


Environmental Ruin in the American West
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Nuclear waste meets Native American folkways in this garbled account of desert ecopolitics. Kuletz (Univ. of Canterbury, New Zealand) has turned her doctoral dissertation into a book, and its origins are evident. The text bristles with jargon and zigzags over a vast swath of territory, without settling on a single narrative path. At the heart of her discussion is a truism, well reported in the current literature: The American West has long been seen, at least by the powers in Washington, as a dusty outback that is just right for testing nuclear weapons and dumping toxic wastes of various kinds (“these dry, arid regions are perceived and discursively interpreted as marginal within the dominant Euroamerican perspective”). That outback is the domain of Indians, who view it differently, as sacred geography; thus, Kuletz’s argument follows, the government’s misuse of Western lands is a form of environmental racism (“Those who benefit least from nuclear developments end up paying the highest price for the excesses of our nuclear culture”). More interestingly, but not necessarily to the point, Kuletz is interested in mapping out the spiritual geography of groups like the Western Shoshone and Paiute, who live near threatened places like Yucca Mountain, Nev.; traditionalists among these people consider the ecological despoliation wrought by nuclear-waste dumping and weapons testing to be a desecration. Kuletz does a solid job of presenting their views, but she doesn’t pursue the harder story: Tribal medicine elders don’t command much respect in Washington, but tribal attorneys do, and these attorneys have made concessions for half a century to allow the testing and dumping Kuletz rightly decries in places like Alamogordo and Fallon. Solid scholarship that doesn’t translate into readable or pointed argument. (5 b&w photos, 24 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-415-91771-9
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Routledge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998