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E-M:/ Lansing Native, Janice Harper, writes world-class Environmental expose

Dear Friends,

The environmental anthropologist Dr. Janice Harper, has just completed a magnificent  book, "Endangered Species, Health, Illness and Death Among Madagascar's People of the Forest" (Carolina Academic Press, 2002). Harper, a good friend and fellow MSU alum, recounts her personal and political struggles in her multi-year work among in an indigenous village in the rainforests of Madagascar, where a USAID-funded national park project prevented native peoples' access to the forest -- which they needed for health and survival -- in deference to the preservation of lemurs and other species.

Janice showed how the project put upper-class-green environmentalist-ideologies before people, detailing how the park promoted economic development as a strategy toward resource conservation, but in actuality based its policies on ethnic stereotypes that had little resemblance to people's actual lives and cultural practices. The local media deceived the public by presenting an image of indigenous prosperity and environmental stewardship. But behind the scenes a different story unfolded as suffering and class inequality intensified, and ten percent of the village died from what appeared to be environmentally-related deaths.

Janice watched villager after villager die and recounted funeral upon funeral she endured. Many were friends. She herself became seriously ill while living with the villagers. 

Her book details the efforts that residents made to confront illness and death on a daily basis. On another level, her "ethnography of corruption" places contemporary land use into its proper contexts, showing its relationship to similar dynamics around ethnicity and land use in Africa.

It's a powerful critique of how efforts to preserve an image of success led project administrators to suppress any effort to explore whether or not the escalating deaths were related in any way to project policies aimed at protecting the forest from those who lived in it.

Janice suffered terribly in attempting to reveal this story to the world. She reveals some of this in her book. However, upon the advice of those who have suffered similar fates for standing up to environmental lies and deceptions, she kept most of her personal angst out of the book.

It seems that this deep-seated problem associated with environmental health work is ubiquitous, as likely to occur in Madagascar as in the U.S., as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility demonstrates.

I encourage everyone to read this fine book. I would hope that some Michigan environmentalists consider inviting Janice -- who now teaches at the University of Houston -- to come home for a visit to share her story with all of us.

In Solidarity,

Brian McKenna, Ph.D.
Public Citizen
Environmental Anthropologist