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Questions for Discussion
Richard White, The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos (Lincoln, Neb., 1983).

1. Assess Choctaw history--especially Choctaw landscape--before contact with Europeans. Describe and evaluate the relationship between "nature" and Choctaw culture.

2. Why didn't Choctaws live in the most fertile parts of their territory? How did they shape the landscape to promote economic, political, and social goals? Why were these efforts necessary and effective?

3. How did Choctaws face "natural disasters"? How were ecological crises also historical crises? Were their causes as much historical and cultural as natural?

4. What is Dependency Theory, as developed by Wallerstein and others? How does White apply it (and revise it) in this book? How is this theoretical apparatus useful? What are its limits?

5. How are landscapes understood and altered differently depending on whether they are used, alternately, for subsistence or for commercial production? Discuss in terms of the Choctaws' changing landscape.

6. How and why could Native people like the Choctaws be drawn into commerce and conflict even when they did not adopt capitalist assumptions and tried to maintain distance from commercial networks?

7. What is the relationship between war and environment, or environmental alteration? What sort of effect did warfare have on the Choctaw local environment?

8. Compare and contrast the Choctaws' gift exchange and alliance system with the market-based system of exchange introduced by colonial and early national Americans. How did the latter affect the former? What was the impact of the introduction of capitalist exchange on the Choctaw landscape?

9. What was the Choctaw "playoff system," according to White? How and why did it fail? What was the environmental impact of its decline?

10. What, according to White, was the key to Choctaw dependency? As their independent and interdependent status declined--through political, economic, and environmental disaster--how did the Choctaws adjust? In particular, how did they reshape their subsistence and environmental practices?

11. How did the Choctaw adjustments (see 9 above) create new social and political problems? Were there alternate strategies?

12. Assess Choctaw Removal--how and why did it occur, and what were its costs? How did Choctaws make the best of their grim circumstances?