Indigenous People, Colonialism, Sovereignty, and Dam Projects in the Americas

AHA Session 100
Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Michael Lawson, MLL Consulting, LLC
Michael Lawson, MLL Consulting, LLC

Session Abstract

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Indigenous communities, nations and people in the Americas faced a host of state-sponsored development projects. In particular, government officials lobbied for dam building projects in order to promote economic development, electricity, and flood control. In some areas, dam projects flooded the lands of Indigenous people. Scholars have highlighted the unsuccessful efforts of the Seneca in New York, Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, and Indigenous Amazonians in Brazil to stop dam projects. Dams have flooded Indigenous peoples’ lands, displaced Indigenous people, and destroyed Indigenous economies and sacred sites. This panel builds on these histories and takes them in new directions. In northern California, historian William Bauer examines how the council for the Round Valley Indian Reservation successfully blocked a dam project that would have inundated their reservation and displaced the people. Round Valley Indians cobbled together an alliance of environmental groups and cattle ranchers to fight the proposed Dos Rios dam. Round Valley Indians turned the history and language of Indian removal back on the state of California. Historian Shannon Bower explores the history of Canada’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. Founded in the mid-1930s, the PFRA engaged with Métis, Nēhiyaw, and Niitsitapi People in the 1960s, when it attempted to improve Indigenous peoples’ lives. Indigenous communities in Canada did not attempt to block dam and water projects on Canada’s prairies, rather they sought access to resources and opportunities that were open to non-Indigenous people. Historian James Garza explores the language of colonialism, Indigenous people and state actors during Mexico’s Porfirian period. While state officials justified dam projects to improve public health and stem flooding, Indigenous people relied on Spanish-language petitions to both protest and support dam projects. Finally, historian Margaret Huettl examines how the Lac Courte Oreilles People maintained their relationships with their fractured, flooded homeland and, by extension, their sovereignty, even as floodwaters from the Winter Dam, built in 1923, inundated their reservation. This panel explores the various experiences of Indigenous people in the United States, Canada and Mexico as they navigated state-development projects in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At times, Indigenous people resisted such projects while others attempted to use them to their advantage before, during and after waters began to back up on their lands.
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