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date: 01 March 2024

Indigenous Peoples and the Environment since 1890free

Indigenous Peoples and the Environment since 1890free

  • Marsha WeisigerMarsha WeisigerHistory, University of Oregon


By the late 19th century, the Indigenous peoples of what became the United States, in an effort to avoid utter genocide, had ceded or otherwise lost their land and control of their natural resources, often through treaties with the United States. Ironically, those treaties, while frequently abrogated by federal fiat, made possible a resurgence of Native nationhood beginning in the 1960s, along with the restoration of Indigenous reserved treaty rights to hunt and fish in their homelands and manage their natural resources. The history of Indigenous peoples and their environments, however, is not a single narrative but a constellation of stories that converge and diverge. Nonetheless, an analysis of the environmental histories of only a fraction of the more than 575 Indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians reveals important trends and commonalities, including the stories of dispossession and displacement, the promise of the Indian New Deal, the trauma of the Termination Era, the reemergence of Native sovereignty based on treaty rights, and the rise of Indigenous leadership in the environmental justice movement. This article is, thus, not comprehensive but focuses on major trends and commonalities from the mid- to late 19th century through the early 21st century, with examples drawn from the environmental histories of a fraction of the more than 575 Indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Topics include dispossession and displacement; the Indian New Deal; the Termination Era; the reemergence of Indigenous sovereignty based on treaty rights; the management of forests, minerals, and water; and the rise of the environmental justice movement. For the period before the establishment of reservations for Indigenous people, see “Indigenous Peoples and the Environment to 1890.”


  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • 20th Century: Post-1945
  • Environmental History
  • Native American History


Long, long ago, the Earth was a great island floating in a sea of water, suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging from an arch of solid rock. Back when all was water, the animals lived in Galûñ’lătĭ, the world above the arch. But they crowded one another and wanted more room. Looking down, they wondered what was below the water. At last, Water-Beetle offered to go and see what he might learn. He darted in every direction over the surface of the water; then, he dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island called Earth. At first, the Earth was flat, soft, and wet. Anxious to live there, the animals sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but the birds found no place to alight and came back again to their home in the sky. At last, they sent out Buzzard and told him to go and ready the Earth for them. Buzzard flew all over the Earth, low to the ground. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap and strike the ground. Wherever they struck the Earth, there was a valley, and where they turned up again, there was a mountain. And so, the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.1

This fragment of an oral tradition, which a Cherokee man related to the ethnologist James Mooney around 1890, explains the creation of his homeland in what is now the southeastern United States. It is through traditional stories like this one—told in myriad ways, in hundreds of languages—that Native Americans2 have long conveyed their historical, spiritual, moral, and indigenous relationships to their environments, passed down orally from one generation to the next. As with the Cherokee tale, creation stories tie Native peoples to specific lands.3 It is also important to note that animals do not subordinate themselves to humans; they are powerful co-creators—even kin. As the Ojibwe environmental activist and author Winona LaDuke has written, “Native American teachings describe the relations all around—animals, fish, trees, and rocks—as our brothers, sisters, uncles, and grandpas. Our relations to each other, our prayers whispered across generations to our relatives, are what bind our cultures together.”4 At the same time, oral traditions inculcate proper behavior among people, animals, and even plants, which collaborate and connect with one another in webs of kinship, reciprocity, and responsibility. These bonds between people and the more-than-human world are not metaphorical, nor are they merely historical; even in the 21st century, among many Native Americans, they form the social, cultural, and ethical ligaments of everyday encounters with the Earth.5

Native peoples continue to observe behavioral codes and employ rituals—songs, prayers, ceremonies, offerings—to show their respect for the more-than-human world that created and sustains them. As the Potawatomi ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer notes, Indigenous peoples “are rooted in cultures of gratitude” and reciprocity.6 Those rituals intercede between people and the spiritual world and maintain harmony and balance, or what Diné (Navajos) call hózhó. Rituals express an understanding of the universe that does not sharply differentiate between the sacred and the material world. Many Native people do not view their more-than-human relatives as “natural resources.” While spiritual beliefs differ widely from one group to the next, Indigenous cultures generally hold that humans are part of a natural world governed and infused by a sacred power (what the Lakotas [Sioux], for example, call Wakan-Tanka; the Algonquians, Manitou; the Osages, Wakonda) that animates all of the cosmos, including spiritual and human beings, the sun and the moon, wind and water, lightning and rain, insects and birds, and predators and prey. Indigenous epistemologies—ways of knowing—conceive of creation not as a single event but as an ongoing, unpredictable process, reenacted and revitalized through ceremony.7

Figure 1. James Auchiah (also known as Tse Koy Ate, Kiowa), the grandson of the famed Kiowa chief Satanta (Set’tainte, White Bear), became an internationally known artist in the 1920s and 1930s. During the New Deal, the US Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts commissioned this mural for the employees’ dining room in the newly constructed US Department of the Interior Building. Its subject, Harvest Dance, conveys the significance of sacred ceremonies to Auchiah and his community. At the center is a group of Kiowas before a campfire; to the left, four dancers and two drummers perform.

Source: James Auchiah, Harvest Dance, 1939, oil on plaster; photograph of artwork by Carol Highsmith; courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Oral traditions, ceremonies, and daily rituals have mediated relationships between Native peoples and the natural world since time out of memory (see figure 1). The Muscogees (Creeks), for example, perform the annual Green Corn Dance to renew the Earth, as well as dances for fish, ducks, and other animals, to thank them for sustaining human life. The spiritual teachings of many Indigenes, as with the Cherokees, hold that animals created the cosmos, are kin to humans, and possess special powers and that, if paid proper respect, animals willingly sacrifice their lives so that humans can live.8 Ceremonies consecrate death and beseech prey to return in the future.

These behavioral codes contributed to the Euro-American myth of the “Ecological Indian,” which suggests that Native peoples have lived in timeless harmony with nature.9 That myth has long dominated popular American culture and even the stories historians tell. In the 20th century, Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Woodcraft Indians, precursor to the Boy Scouts, and Charles Eastman, a Santee Dakota (Sioux) physician, activist, and author of The Soul of the Indian and Indian Scout Talks: A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, popularized the notion of Indians as nature’s stewards. Most recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, counterculturalists embraced the Ecological Indian as a model for a new communal, spiritual society that would revere Mother Earth.10

That is a seductive viewpoint. And yet this stereotype demeans Indigenous peoples in that it imagines them as though they were without culture or history.11 For thousands of years, Native peoples nurtured grasslands for grazing animals, like bison, and fostered the growth of shrubs for browsers, like deer, with the purposeful use of fire, and they shaped ecosystems by hunting, fishing, and whaling. Their practices were largely sustainable but not because of some essential, innate understanding of nature, as the stereotype of the Ecological Indian suggests. Over millennia, Indigenes gained local knowledge—often called traditional ecological knowledge or Indigenous knowledge (IK)—through observation, and they developed complex systems of rituals, taboos, territorial claims, usufruct rights, and social sanctions to manage their environments.12 In the 21st century, despite centuries of genocide, 575 federally recognized Indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, struggle to retain and reclaim their sovereign rights to land, waters, natural resources, and their relationships with the more-than-human world. The stereotype of the Ecological Indian often confounds those efforts.


By the late 19th century, after nearly three hundred years of settler colonial expansion across the North American continent, despondent Native peoples found themselves corralled and confined onto Indian reservations, lands that settler colonists generally regarded as worthless or too arid for agrarian homesteaders. Most reservations were mere fragments of ancestral homelands, or worse, far from home, sacred sites, and familiar ecosystems. The one advantage was the promise of permanence. As President James Monroe famously pledged to the Cherokees, a permanent Indian frontier west of the Mississippi would remain “As long as water flows, or grass grows upon the earth, or the sun rises to show your pathway, . . . so long shall you be protected by this Government, and never again removed from your present habitations.”13 Between 1830 and 1884, Congress thus established reserves in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), where the US Army forcibly relocated twenty tribal nations, including the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Muscogees, and Seminoles (sometimes collectively referred to as the Five Tribes), and tethered eleven more to small portions of their seasonal range. Then, in 1889, Congress split the lands of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (“Nation of the Seven Council Fires,” also known as the Great Sioux Nation), a confederacy that included the Lakotas, Dakotas, and Nakodas (all formerly called Sioux), into six smaller reservations in North and South Dakota. Elsewhere, settlers swarmed onto lands never ceded by treaty and ratified with the consent of the US Senate, as required by law, including those of the Oneidas, Western Shoshones (Newes), and numerous tribal nations in California and coastal Oregon.14 When Indigenous leaders did sign treaties, their compliance was coerced, under the cudgel of conquest.

Even then, Native nations prudently procured provisions that allowed them to hunt, fish, and gather in their “usual and accustomed” places, both on and off their reservations. For the Makahs, who lived along the Salish Sea, where they hunted whales, seals, and halibut, those claims extended far beyond the coast to include customary marine spaces. As one Makah chief proclaimed to a treaty negotiator in 1855, “I want the sea. That is my country.”15 But Euro-American fishers and hunters, both commercial and recreational, quickly moved to define Natives as “poachers” when off their reserves, even on public lands and open seas.16 To people for whom land and water signified not only sustenance but also cultural identity, ancestors, and the spirit world, these losses felt cataclysmic.

In creating reservations, federal agents assumed that Indians would give up “the chase,” become farmers, and thereby assimilate into American society. Many Indigenes instead rejected farming altogether, favoring livestock grazing.17 The arid and semi-arid ecosystems of most reservations, in any event, proved unsuitable for agriculture, due to thin soils and insufficient rainfall. Those who had historically farmed, moreover, did not necessarily embrace the agrarian dream. Take, for example, the Tohono O’odhams (Papagos), skilled desert farmers who practiced both ditch-irrigated and ak-chin horticulture, an irrigation technique based on empirical knowledge of seasonal flooding along ephemeral streams.18 In fact, an agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)19 admonished his colleagues in 1915: “We cannot go into their country with the idea of teaching them farming or irrigation under conditions as we find them. Rather should we go to them to be taught.”20 Yet the Tohono O’odhams did not become models of assimilation; they engaged in what scholars call “resistant adaptation” by combining agriculture and seasonal wage work with customary migratory cycles for subsistence and ceremonies.21 Despite losing their land, in various ways, Indigenous peoples continued to assert control over their lives.

Among those who promoted the expropriation of Native lands were politically powerful conservationists. Some sought to protect sublime landscapes and ancient ruins—reimagined as untrammeled wilderness and remnants of “vanishing” Indian cultures—as pleasure grounds for elite and middle-class tourists. This is the hidden history of the western national parks: Uninhabited “wilderness” first had to be created by removing Indians to reservations. These landscapes often signified spiritually significant places to Indigenous peoples. The Blackfeet, for example, called what became Glacier National Park the “backbone of the world,” where potent spirits lived, crucial ceremonies took place, and the best hunting grounds lay. They did not become entirely invisible at Glacier, the Grand Canyon, and elsewhere. They worked as wage laborers, and Indian dancers and imagery helped promote the parks and entertain tourists. But, insofar as possible, all traces of impoverished Native villages on the margins of the parks remained concealed from visitors’ gaze.22

While most scholars have focused on the confiscation of Native lands for national parks, federal conservationists also seized Indigenous lands to create national forests and wildlife refuges. Between 1902 and 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt established the enormous Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska without the knowledge of any of the Tlingits and Haidas—fourteen villages in all—living within the area. Foresters discouraged Indigenous subsistence hunting and fishing within the forest. Just as egregiously, in 1906, Roosevelt designated the lands surrounding Blue Lake, a pool of water sacred to the people of Taos Pueblo, as part of the newly established Carson National Forest in New Mexico. From time out of memory, Taos people had made an annual pilgrimage to this symbol of their connection with the natural world in order to perform religious rites, but for more than half a century, the federal government ignored their petitions to protect the lake from intruders. And in 1908, Congress designated nine-tenths of the Ojibwe’s Leech Lake Reservation as the Minnesota National Forest (now the Chippewa National Forest). The Forest Service sold the timber to commercial logging interests, and soon, 95 percent of the trees had been felled. Congress expropriated still more lands on Indian reservations for game and wildlife refuges. In 1901, it withdrew land from the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in Indian Territory to create the first game preserve, now known as the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. By 1915, five more game reserves, as well as five “bison reservations,” had been carved out of land supposedly set aside permanently for Indigenous people.23 In creating wildlife refuges, forests, and parks for conservation and public recreation, federal conservationists not only seized lands and sacred sites, but also thwarted the treaty rights of many Native people to freely hunt and fish in their usual and accustomed places, in favor of Euro-American sport hunters.

Those who appropriated Native lands believed that Indians had no private property, a long-standing and enduring myth. True, Native peoples did not think of land as marketable “real estate” defined by surveys and deeds, but they did possess a wide range of property systems, which differed by culture and ecological uses of land. Only the horseback bison hunters who ranged across the Great Plains recognized few land rights prior to the creation of Indian reservations. In that, they were unusual. Within horticultural societies, individual women typically exercised exclusive and inheritable rights to cultivated plots and homes so long as they continued to use them. Those who subsisted primarily by hunting or fishing often had similar notions of property. Extended family groups among the Penobscots of what became Maine possessed exclusive hunting and fishing territories separated from one another by lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water and marked by animal totems that represented the family’s origin story. Some societies had overlapping properties, reflecting the seasonality of resources across the landscape. Among the Algonquians of southern New England, where individuals owned their plots of maize and squash, entire communities possessed sole seasonal rights to specific berrying areas, clam beds, and fishing spots year after year. And yet other communities might visit the same tracts in different seasons for different resources. While each Native group had its own conceptions of property, depending on cultural values, geography, and economy, one principle prevailed across Indian Country: land meant more than natural resources. Infused with spiritual meanings, land formed the bedrock of cultural identity for most Native peoples. They did not conceive of land as a commodity.24

Figure 2. Broadside signed by Walter L. Fisher, Secretary of the Interior, and Robert G. Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1911. The photograph at the center is of Padani-Kokipa-Sni (Not Afraid of Pawnee) of the Yankton Sioux (Dakota) nation.

Source: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1887, under the guise of assimilating Indians into capitalist culture through private property ownership, Congress voted to further undermine sovereignty and seize territory with the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act). With the Dawes Act and subsequent congressional acts over the next decade—particularly the Curtis Act of 1898, which applied the Dawes Act to the Five Tribes—the BIA divided and distributed many reservations as individual “allotments,” or farm plots, then opened any “surplus” to settlers (see figure 2). By 1907, no reservations appeared to remain in what had once been called Indian Territory.25 Indeed, throughout the western United States, the federal government expropriated two-thirds of the reservation land base, and with it, timberlands, grazing lands, and biodiversity. Many allottees subsequently lost their farms to scheming settlers or to property tax sales.26 In the Southwest, by contrast, many reservations seemed so undesirable to settlers that they had not yet been allotted when the government suspended the entire process in 1934.

The responses of Native peoples to allotment varied. Most opposed the idea, but some thought that deeded allotments might protect their titles to land. The Hupas (also spelled Hoopas), for example, welcomed allotment and agriculture, although their acreages proved too small in the long run. Others, like the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) and the Jicarilla Apaches, subverted and resisted spatial control by selecting farming and grazing allotments that preserved access to traditional food sources and created contiguous clusters of extended families. The Shoshone-Bannocks of Fort Hall received farm allotments on lands they already cultivated and lost no land to settlers, although many of them leased pastures to white ranchers. Those lease arrangements effectively changed after the formation of the Fort Hall Indian Stockmen’s Association in 1920. That group of Native men purchased their own commercial herd of cattle with monies they had earned herding for white stockmen, pushed non-Native stockmen off the allotted pastures and the tribal grazing reserve, secured exclusive access to hay grown on tribal bottomlands, and developed a thriving ranching economy, although sometimes at the expense of subsistence-level ranchers. Still, other communities, like the Diné (Navajos) and Native peoples living along the Columbia River, actually used the Dawes Act and the Homestead Act to acquire contiguous allotments on the public domain and thus informally expand or create tribal lands.27

Meanwhile, on the Hawaiian Islands, a growing global demand for sugar alienated the Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) from their lands and transfigured the landscape. Between 1850 and 1890, under the influence of American missionaries, lands and waters once managed by Kānaka headmen for the use of all Native Hawaiians became privatized in a process called the Māhele. Soon vertically integrated sugar plantations owned by settler colonists carpeted the countryside and reshaped the watershed, as flumes funneled water from forested highlands to the sugarcane fields. Over time, Kānaka Maoli were not only displaced but also disenfranchised by land-ownership requirements for voting. By 1893, when a group of planters and merchants overthrew the Native Hawaiian government and deposed Queen Liliʻuokalani, few Kānakas owned land. When the United States annexed Hawaiʻi in 1900, Congress assumed authority over the remaining government-owned property.28

Back on the mainland, the discovery of energy minerals on reservations throughout the American West ushered in a new era of dispossession. Extraction began in the late 19th century without the approval or even the knowledge of Native nations. In an effort to better protect tribes, between 1917 and 1938, Congress passed a series of mineral laws that required tribal consent and competitive bidding for leases and regulated royalty payments. The BIA, however, failed to enforce regulations and lease terms and often misspent royalty revenues.29

Oil discoveries could be both boon and bane.

One of the earliest oil strikes gushed on Osage land. Unusual among Native nations, the Osages had used the proceeds from previous land cessions to purchase the portion of their homelands that became their reservation in northern Indian Territory. Ownership came to be significant with the discovery of rich oil reserves at the turn of the 20th century. When the federal government began allotting the reservation in 1906, the Osage nation shrewdly severed surface lands from the minerals below, and they retained ownership of their mineral estate, held in trust as an “underground reservation.” Each allottee received an annual share of oil royalties, or a headright. Despite revenue losses due to noncompetitive bids, exorbitant legal fees, and other financial shenanigans, wealth came so quickly that by 1929, every single Osage allottee had earned nearly $103,000 (equivalent to roughly $1.6 million in 2020). Such wealth unfortunately attracted unscrupulous white men who married Osage women, leading to the murder of at least 250 Osages for their headrights.30

On the Navajo Reservation, oil industrialists struck pay dirt in 1922. It proved to be a mixed blessing as well. Petroleum royalties enriched tribal coffers and thus made possible the acquisition of additional reservation land, the development of water wells and irrigation, and the financing of reservation schools, better health care, and a few paved roads. And yet oil leases also precipitated changes in tribal government, intensified political factions, and introduced a wage economy. The industry, moreover, damaged ecosystems, defiled sacred sites, maintained leaky pipelines poorly, and appropriated precious water from artesian wells. Adding injury, petroleum producers paid the Navajo Nation only a fraction of the value of the fossil wealth it extracted, which the BIA exacerbated with poor financial oversight.31 If ever there were an opportunity for the federal government to promote a return to self-sufficiency and self-determination, this was it.

The Broken Promise of the Indian New Deal

That opportunity arrived during the Great Depression. An Indian New Deal promised a revolution in US Indian policy, though many of the benefits to Native environments were not fully realized until the 1970s. John Collier, long a champion of Indians, became commissioner of Indian affairs in 1933, and the following year, he won congressional approval for the landmark Indian Reorganization Act (IRA; Wheeler-Howard Act), which blazed a path toward self-determination. For a variety of reasons, nearly one-third of the tribes rejected the program. In practice, though, Collier extended most of the IRA’s empowering provisions to all tribal nations. Empowerment, admittedly, was limited because the BIA retained the right to veto decisions it thought unwise. Still, the IRA ended the Dawes Act and made possible the restoration of some reservation lands, provided a measure of self-government and economic development, and laid the institutional groundwork for modern Native nationalism.32

Figure 3. Taos Pueblo firefighters with the Civilian Conservation Corps–Indian Division (CCC-ID), Carson National Forest, New Mexico, 1939.

Source: Courtesy of the US Forest Service.

Collier also developed a variety of environmental policies and programs for reservations. Coupled with the Omnibus Tribal Leasing Act of 1938, the IRA gave tribal governments the power to prevent the sale, lease, disposal, or encumbrance of their communal lands and assets, like oil, coal, and timber, without their express consent.33 The US Department of the Interior, moreover, created the Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC-ID)34 to provide economic relief through natural resource conservation (see figure 3). Unlike the other CCC units across the country, the CCC-ID, under BIA supervision, employed both married and unmarried men over the age of 18, with no upper age limit. By the end of the program in 1942, more than 85,000 Indigenous men had built erosion control structures, improved rangelands, drilled wells and developed natural springs, constructed dams and reservoirs, fought forest fires, reforested reservations, and more. True, many of the projects proved unsuccessful due to poor planning and insufficient funding, and yet Native men learned valuable skills, and reservations generally benefited from healthier forests, new water sources, and erosion control.35

A few New Deal conservation programs, however, devastated Native nations. Among the most notorious was the livestock reduction program on the Navajo Reservation. For centuries, Diné had sustained themselves with sheep and goats, which—along with horses—wove the fabric of cultural and gender identity. By the 1920s, a combination of climate change and overgrazing by Diné livestock—exacerbated by the encroachment of Hispanic and Anglo ranchers—had badly eroded the land, threatening the viability of the pastoral economy and the newly constructed Boulder (now Hoover) Dam. Under Collier’s leadership, the BIA and the US Soil Conservation Service slashed the numbers of livestock in half and imposed grazing restrictions. In some cases, federal agents brutally killed the animals and left them to rot, provoking widespread rebellion. Although Collier had intended to help Diné by improving the marketability of their flocks and restoring land, he failed miserably on all counts for a variety of reasons, both ecological and cultural. Federal officials disparaged local knowledge, ignored the cultural importance of pastoralism, and excluded women—who owned and managed flocks and controlled access to land—from decision making. The government’s top-down program saddled Diné with persistent poverty, a collective memory of trauma, long-term rejection of range conservation policies, and chronic desertification.36

The BIA also failed to protect the interests of Native peoples when large-scale New Deal projects damming major river systems impacted their treaty rights to fish in their usual and accustomed places. Along the Columbia River, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation built a series of dams, including Bonneville and Grand Coulee, which destroyed Indigenes’ homes, burial grounds, and sacred sites and flooded scores of their salmon fishing sites to create a slack-water “organic machine” for hydroelectric power and irrigation.37 Indigenous people from throughout the region wailed in sorrow. They gathered in 1940 for a three-day Ceremony of Tears as the Grand Coulee Dam submerged the ancient fishing site at Kettle Falls along the river’s upper reaches.38 Then, in 1957, the corps closed the gates of the Dalles Dam and flooded Wyam (Celilo Falls), a storied fishing site and gathering place for Native peoples for millennia. Jay Minthorn, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, later recalled that as the waters rose, he watched people “crying and singing the religious songs that they sang at funerals.”39 Profound loss compounded with intertribal conflict over access to new “in lieu” fishing sites that the federal government designated in a weak gesture at compensation. Federally recognized communities with treaty rights to fish, like the Yakamas (sometimes spelled Yakimas), contested the rights of Indigenes who had homesteads along the river but were deemed unaffiliated renegades because of their refusal to relocate to reservations. Out of this conflict the Columbia River Indians forged their own ethnic identity.40


Some scholars argue that the failures of the Indian New Deal laid the groundwork for a new policy to terminate the tribal status of American Indians, first articulated in the mid-1940s and formally adopted in 1953. Termination proposed to “emancipate” Indians from federal guardianship, extinguish the federal–tribal relationship, eliminate reservations, and rapidly assimilate Indians into American society. Of the 109 terminated groups, the hardest hit were the Klamaths, some Ute tribes, and numerous small nations in Oregon and California, who together lost more than one million acres of land when the government dissolved their reservations. Termination, thus, might also be viewed as one more effort to seize land and natural resources, especially forests, rivers, and mineral wealth.41

Even those tribal nations that were not terminated faced federal land grabs during the Termination Era. Reclamation projects for irrigation, flood control, and hydroelectricity inundated stretches of Indian Country. The Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, first authorized in 1936 and completed in 1965 after decades of resistance, submerged nine Seneca towns and ten thousand acres of their land in New York and Pennsylvania.42 When, in 1958, New York State moved to seize land for a reservoir from the Tuscaroras of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as part of a massive hydroelectric project at Niagara Falls, Associate Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black lamented that the government failed to protect treaty rights to ancestral territory. “Great nations, like great men,” he observed, “should keep their word.”43

Figure 4. George Gillette, chairman of the Fort Berthold Indian Tribal Business Council, weeps as Secretary of the Interior Julius A. Krug signs a contract for the construction of Garrison Dam, which flooded much of the Fort Berthold Reservation, 1948.

Source: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Most reclamation projects, however, impacted western tribes. Among these, the Pick-Sloan Plan on the Missouri River stands out. Authorized by Congress in 1944, its dams drowned the bottomlands of six reservations in South and North Dakota, home to thousands of Lakotas, Dakotas, Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras.44 Those lands provided timber, game and waterfowl habitat, roots, berries, medicinal plants, pastures, and croplands. In 1946, the Garrison Dam, for example, flooded the Fort Berthold Reservation, displacing about 80 percent of the population and stripping them of 94 percent of their agricultural lands (see figure 4). Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the Bureau of Reclamation, who together oversaw construction of the Pick-Sloan dams, consulted or even told any of the Native nations about the project before they broke ground. Aside from the consolidation and control of lands once leased by white ranchers, the project failed to benefit Native people in any meaningful way.45 Dakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. called the Pick-Sloan project “the single most destructive act ever perpetrated on any tribe by the United States.”46

And yet the atomic age certainly posed threats that were more widespread and perilous. The federal government developed the first atomic bombs at Los Alamos Laboratory on land seized, in part, from the San Ildefonso Pueblo, using uranium mined and milled on the Navajo Reservation and processed into plutonium on land appropriated from the Yakamas for the Hanford nuclear plant in Washington State.47 Hanford alone exposed more than nine Native nations to airborne and waterborne releases of radioactive materials.48 All nuclear weapons and power plants start with uranium. From 1944 until the 1980s, most of that ore was mined on Indian reservations, especially on the Colorado Plateau, home to the country’s largest open-pit uranium mine, on Laguna Pueblo. Moreover, 90 percent of the mills, where ore is pounded into dust for later processing, were on reservation land. Uranium itself, if inhaled or ingested, can cause bone and lung cancer and increase the risk of leukemia, but the greatest danger comes from uranium dust, which produces highly toxic radium-226 (bombarding bones) and radon gas (targeting lungs).49 Many Native people have died from these exposures.

The Navajo Nation bore the brunt of it. Destitution and desperation encouraged the Diné to embrace resource extraction, with dire consequences. Impoverished by livestock reduction, many men left the reservation seasonally to support their families with railroad or migratory agricultural labor. Thus, they initially welcomed uranium mining, which allowed men to work close to home. Between 1944 and 1986, Diné workers extracted nearly four million tons of uranium ore from more than five hundred mines on Navajo Nation land, processed at four reservation mills. Within the United States, nearly one-third of all the uranium tailings—massive piles of waste rock subject to water and wind erosion—are on the Navajo Reservation. What the miners—who wore no protective equipment other than hard hats—did not know was that mining exposed them to extraordinarily dangerous levels of radon gas. No one with the Kerr McGee Corporation, which owned most of the mines, nor any federal agency told them of the danger, although it was well known among scientists and public health officials. No one informed miners that the dust they carried home on their clothing would contaminate their families, nor that the waste rock some used to construct their houses, bread ovens, and cisterns for storing water exposed wives and children to radon and carcinogenic gamma rays. A growing recognition of these hazards, however, led the Navajo Nation in 1972 to establish the Navajo Environmental Protection Administration, the first such tribal regulatory authority.50

Then, in July 1979, the biggest spill of radioactive material in US history occurred at a uranium mill near Church Rock, on private land owned by the United Nuclear Corporation adjacent to the reservation. An earthen dam at a tailings pond collapsed, spewing more than ninety-three million gallons of radioactive effluent and over one thousand tons of radium-laced tailings into the Puerco River, which flowed by some seventeen hundred Diné living downstream. As the waters seeped into the ground, they polluted aquifers.51 In 2005, when the Navajo Nation Council banned uranium mining on the reservation, Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. condemned uranium mining as “genocide.”52

By the end of the 1960s, coal mines and power plants had also plundered the Navajo Reservation to serve the electrical demands of Phoenix, Los Angeles, and other western cities. At the time, Diné leaders welcomed the coal industry, which promised to fill tribal treasuries, provide work for Diné men, supply the largely rural reservation with electricity, and attract industry, and with it, modernity. The Navajo Nation thus eagerly signed leases with the Utah International Company, which opened the reservation’s Navajo Mine—the largest coal strip mine in the United States—providing fuel to the nearby Four Corners Generating Station and the Cholla Power Plant, just off the reservation. Both the Navajos and the Hopis also leased land to the Peabody Western Coal Company, which operated the Black Mesa Mine on land jointly used by both nations. The Black Mesa Mine was especially egregious. John Boyden, a Salt Lake City lawyer who represented the Hopi Tribal Council in its poorly negotiated lease, was secretly on the payroll of the Peabody company. Moreover, instead of hauling coal to the power plants, Peabody mixed equal portions of coal and fossil groundwater drawn from wells drilled deep into the aquifer to form a slurry, which flowed through a pipeline stretching more than two hundred miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada and to the reservation’s Navajo Generating Station. Mercury astronauts reported that from space, they could see two human artifacts: the Great Wall of China and the plume streaming from the Four Corners Power Plant. That plume carried sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulates that afflicted Diné with high rates of asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. It also contributed to desertification. By the early 21st century, when the Navajo Nation Council proposed to build its own coal-fired power plant, Desert Rock Energy Project—a joint venture with the multinational Sithe Global Power—activists with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE) and Doodá (No) Desert Rock mounted a successful campaign to stop the project. Ironically, while the windswept landscape of the Navajo and Hopi nations produced most of the electricity consumed in the Southwest, many of their own homes remain without electrical power in the early 21st century.53

Resurgence, Resilience, and Reserved Treaty Rights

The 1970s marked a turning point for Native sovereignty and environments across the United States. Red Power activists grabbed headlines by waging a series of protests at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, BIA headquarters in Washington, DC, and Wounded Knee, South Dakota. President Richard Nixon, observing that the historic treatment of Indians was “a grave injustice,” responded in part by signing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which returned roughly forty-four million acres to Alaska Natives, and by restoring ownership of the sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo. Most importantly, Nixon articulated a new policy of tribal “self-determination without termination.” By 1975, this shift in policy and protests by Native activists prompted Congress to pass the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act, which allowed tribal nations to administer federal programs on their reservations.54

But a decade before this change in policy, Native nations themselves began to assert their sovereignty over natural resources based on their treaty rights. Much of this resurgence turned on the binding nature of treaties. According to the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, treaties—along with federal laws and the Constitution itself—are the “supreme Law of the Land.”55 In entering into bilateral and multilateral treaties during the 18th and 19th centuries, the United States had acknowledged the fundamental sovereignty of Indian nations, and those nations, too, had recognized the sacred and solemn nature of treaties, signed with pomp and ceremony. By the mid-20th century, Native nations increasingly demanded that the United States take those covenants seriously.

They were aided in those efforts by a series of court decisions made a half-century earlier but largely unheeded until the turbulent sixties. Those judicial rulings enunciated a “reserved rights” doctrine, which buttressed an emerging sovereignty movement. Back in 1898, the federal government filed suit against Washington State on behalf of the Yakama Nation when local settlers erected a fish wheel that scooped up fish by the ton, endangering salmon populations, blocking access to the fishery, and threatening the Yakamas’ treaty right to fish “at all usual and accustomed places” in their ceded territory. That right, wrote the US Supreme Court in United States v. Winans (1905), “was not a grant of right to the Indians, but a reservation by the Indians of rights already possessed and not granted away by them.”56 This ruling would become the crux of the Native sovereignty movement: Indigenous people had not been given rights, they had retained or “reserved” certain rights in exchange for vast tracts of land. On the heels of that decision, the Aaniiih (Gros Ventres) and Nakodas of the Fort Belknap Reservation sued to protect their rights to the Milk River. The US Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Winters v. United States (1908) that the creation of reservations implied setting aside sufficient water to grow crops or engage in the “arts of civilization”; it constituted a reserved water right stemming from the tribal nations’ original occupancy. In practice, the courts have interpreted “original occupancy” as the date that the federal government established a given reservation. Still, since most reservations existed before large numbers of settler colonists arrived, this ruling meant that Native nations often possess priority, or “senior,” water rights, meaning they can use as much water as needed before other water users take their share.57 Initially, the court’s decisions proved more symbolic than substantive. Finally, they would bear fruit.

Among the most public battles for sovereignty were the “fishing wars” in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region. In every instance, Native peoples encountered public resistance and state recalcitrance. White fishers and environmentalists deployed the stereotype of the Ecological Indian to undercut Native sovereignty, demonizing Indigenes as “inauthentic” Indians when they engaged in commercial whaling, sealing, or fishing using modern technology. Yet the use of traditional technologies, like spears, also spawned hostility.

Figure 5. Billy Frank Jr. during a “fish-in” at Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River, 1973.

Source: Photo by Tom Thompson. Courtesy of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Between 1964 and 1971, the intertribal National Indian Youth Council and the Survival of the American Indians Association organized “fish-ins” on the Nisqually and Puyallup Rivers to demand the recognition of their treaty right to fish in their usual and accustomed places (see figure 5). These young protesters, inspired by the Black Power Movement’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, attracted support—though not always welcome—from entertainment figures, most famously, actor Marlon Brando and comedian Dick Gregory. Unimpressed, Washington State insisted that fishing rights did not apply outside shrunken reservations. Then in 1974, after years of civil disobedience, demonstrations, arrests, and even beatings inflicted by game officials and state police, Native peoples in Washington secured those rights in US district court, later affirmed by the US Supreme Court. Judge George Boldt ruled in United States v. Washington (1974) that Washington’s Native fishers had not only a treaty right to fish in all their customary places, even off-reservation, but also a right to half the state’s annual catch. Boldt also required the state to collaborate with, ultimately, twenty-six tribes in managing fish and their habitats, including riparian forests.58

Just weeks after the Boldt decision, the Ojibwes of Wisconsin invoked their sovereignty and defied state law by spearfishing walleyed pike on a lake near their Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa Reservation. In Lac Courte Oreille Band of Chippewa Indians v. Voigt (1983), a US appeals court affirmed the Ojibwes’ treaty rights to fish in their ceded lands, which spanned almost all of northern Wisconsin. The ruling inflamed anti-Indian protests, which for six more years flared into rock throwing and racial slurs, like “Save a Walleye, Spear an Indian.” It took more than a decade before the US Supreme Court settled the issue of Ojibwe treaty rights once and for all, holding in Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians (1999) that the Ojibwes’ right to fish, hunt, and gather in all their usual places—even ceded lands—had never been extinguished.59

By contrast, the Makahs have struggled to apply the Boldt decision to their customary marine spaces. The maritime border with Canada has complicated the issue. In 1977, in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the US bargained away the Makahs’ most prized halibut fishing banks to Canada, knowing well it would impinge on Indigenous treaty rights. In the 1990s, US courts affirmed the Makahs’ rights to their share of halibut in US waters, and yet a 1953 Halibut Convention signed with Canada limited those rights to a fraction of the catch supposedly guaranteed by treaty. Then, in 1999, the Makahs harpooned their first whale in more than seventy years, landing it on the shore of Neah Bay with a welcoming ceremony and potlatch. It could be their last. While Makah whaling has the support of several regulatory agencies, including the International Whaling Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, federal courts have held that the Marine Mammal Protection Act bars all US citizens, including Indigenous people, from whaling.60 The struggle to secure recognition of treaty rights continues.

For some terminated tribes, environmental stewardship sustained the struggle to defend sovereignty and treaty rights. The Menominees and the Klamath Tribes,61 for example, continued to fight to manage their forests after Congress terminated the federal trust relationship with them in 1961. (The Menominees successfully regained recognition in 1973 and the Klamaths in 1986.) Since the mid-19th century, both of these Native nations had developed logging economies with skilled Indigenous timber workers, and the Menominees operated their own sawmill. With termination, the Menominees incorporated as Menominee Enterprises to manage their vast forest covering more than two hundred thousand acres—now an entire Wisconsin county—to which they retained ownership. Through their own initiative, their charter required sustained-yield management—matching the annual harvest to the growth rate of new trees—and they earned national recognition for sustainable forestry.62

In the Pacific Northwest, tribal initiatives grounded in treaty rights and led by the Klamath Tribes helped bring about new forest policies. With termination, the tribes had lost more than a million acres of forested reservation land, some of which the government auctioned off for industrial logging; most of the land, however, became part of the Fremont-Winema National Forest and the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Then, in 1975, inspired by a series of court rulings upholding the treaty rights of terminated tribes, the Klamaths challenged Oregon and federal agencies to recognize their sovereign right to manage their forests, established the Klamath Indian Game Commission, and drafted a wildlife management plan. Drawing in part on the language of the Endangered Species Act, the Klamaths astutely argued that they were an endangered culture that possessed “a unique way of understanding and living in this place.” After a series of hard-won agreements between 1981 and 2001, the Klamaths established their right to collaborate with Oregon, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to comanage the Klamath River watershed and its forests, waters, fish, and wildlife in a government-to-government relationship that draws not only on science but also on the Klamaths’ traditional ecological knowledge.63 Similarly, the Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians,64 among the first tribal nations to be terminated, developed innovative conservation programs after regaining tribal recognition and some forested portions of its coastal Oregon reservation between 1977 and 1980. Their innovative programs include a naturalistic fish hatchery, which fosters the growth of wild coho salmon and other riparian species, and the management of habitat for marbled murrelets, endangered seabirds that nest in old growth trees.65 These comanagement efforts in the Pacific Northwest culminated in the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act of 1990, which requires federal foresters to plan and coordinate forest management with Native tribes throughout Indian Country.66

Indeed, increasingly, tribal nations and federal and state land agencies are agreeing to comanage the public domain, in recognition not only of treaty rights but also of the value of traditional ecological knowledge and the fact that most, if not all, “public lands” are Indigenous homelands. In 1995, the Forest Service and the Nimiipuu collaborated to recover wolves (hîmmin)—culturally and spiritually important creatures—in the northern Rockies. Several tribal nations, including the Yuroks, Karuks, and Hoopas of California and the people of Jemez Pueblo, in New Mexico, help mitigate wildfire in national forests with traditional fire management practices. And an intertribal coalition representing the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain, and Zuni nations developed a plan for comanaging Bears Ears National Monument on the Colorado Plateau.67 Comanagement of lands with federal and state agencies acknowledges Indigenous relations with their home territories and offers a measure of reparation.

Alaska offers lessons in the significance of treaty rights in exercising sovereignty through land management. The US government largely ignored Alaska Natives until the 20th century, long after the treaty era ended, and never removed them to reservations.68 Thus, when, in 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act designated more than one hundred million acres, or 28 percent of the state, as national parks, wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic rivers, Congress included more than fifty million acres of “inhabited wilderness,” home to tens of thousands of Alaska Natives. By and large, Indigenes supported the wilderness designation of their homelands because the act allowed rural residents, both Native and non-Native, to hunt and fish in these reserves, so long as it was “customary and traditional subsistence use.”69 This right to hunt in federally protected areas was unprecedented but culturally consequential. As Carol Jorgensen, a Tlingit environmental leader, observed,

Native people see subsistence as the very essence of their souls, the tapestry of their culture; it is how we communicate to one another, how we take care of one another, how we set up relationships between clans or groups of different villages. . . . It goes far beyond food.70

Some federal agencies, notably, the Forest Service, have come to recognize the cultural significance of subsistence hunting and the value of traditional ecological knowledge in managing the land. But the absence of treaties undergirding the right to hunt and fish also proved momentous. Some federal and state agencies remain deeply entrenched in familiar patterns of land management, grounded in colonial notions of Indianness. Consequently, Alaska Natives who live in more urban areas but return seasonally to their ancestral villages for subsistence hunting get treated as “poachers,” and those who use modern technologies such as motorized boats or all-terrain vehicles strike critics as untraditional or inauthentic. In the absence of treaty rights, Alaska Natives lack the power to compel natural resource agencies to comanage lands and their access to them as equal partners.71

While many tribal nations focused on exercising sovereignty through traditional land-management practices, others chose to engage in the broader world economy, on their own terms. A number of western Native nations—especially the Navajos, the Northern Cheyennes, the Crows, and the Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras (also known as the MHA Nation) of the Fort Berthold Reservation—signaled a rising spirit in the 1970s by claiming control over their own mineral resources. The 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries offered both opportunity and crisis for Native nations like these. Congress greased the path for the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline—long held up by Alaska Native land claims and lawsuits from environmentalists, including Indigenes. But as hours-long gas lines formed and US policymakers began seeking “energy independence,” in part by extracting oil, coal, and gas from Indian reservations, Native leaders saw they had leverage. Federal estimates held that reservations contained 4.2 billion barrels of oil, 17.5 trillion cubic feet of gas, and some 30 percent of the coal west of the Mississippi River. The Crow Nation alone owned so much coal that the Wall Street Journal observed its reservation could qualify as the world’s ninth largest coal-owning country.72 Native nations now sat in the driver’s seat.

Two years into the energy crisis, most of the Indigenous nations with rich mineral resources joined to form the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT). CERT not only capitalized on Natives’ new power, in light of the national pressure to develop fuels, but also recognized the potential social and environmental consequences of development. The media likened CERT to a cartel, but that image suggested more swagger than substance. After an initial period of conflict and controversy, the group gained expertise and focused on increasing tribal control of the mineral wealth beneath their lands; improving reservation infrastructure, governmental efficiency, and financial management; encouraging Native nations to invest their mineral revenues; providing technical, legal, and negotiating expertise; and writing environmental regulations. A few tribes even pushed for partnerships and profit sharing with energy development companies, and those companies eagerly competed for contracts on tribal terms. The Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 gave tribes more explicit control, even as US energy demands waned.73

But there was a downside, too. Energy development divided Indigenous communities between those who wanted revenues for social services or per capita payments and those who voiced concern about the environmental and cultural impacts or distrusted corporate capitalism. The prospect of oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its coastal plain, for example, has divided Gwich’in, who fear drilling will damage caribou calving grounds, and local Inupiaqs, who own the mineral rights, prospered from the Alaska pipeline, and stand to profit from drilling in the refuge as shareholders of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the Kaktovik Inupiaq Corporation. The issue has also split Inupiaqs, many of whom oppose drilling. Elsewhere, Native people living on allotments—whose lands produce one-third of the Indigenous mineral revenues nationwide—remained relatively defenseless in their fragmented dealings with energy companies.74 Private property did not translate into power.

Mineral resources, forests, and fisheries grounded much of the resurgence of Native nations, rooted in reserved rights, but for those living in the arid western United States, water is life. With the fate of cities and agricultural empires hanging in the balance, in the first half of the 20th century, state governments and federal agencies constructed complex interstate compacts to allocate and distribute the waters of diminishing rivers. In doing so, they paid absolutely no attention to the reserved water rights of Indigenous nations. Despite the Winters Doctrine of 1908, state governments refused to recognize Native rights to the waters flowing through their lands.

That began to change in the 1970s, in what some scholars have called “the second treaty era.” Legal settlements with the Navajos, Hualapais, Kickapoos, and other Native nations secured treaty rights to water for domestic use, agriculture, and economic development, like tourism. For many tribal nations, though, the actual benefits of their water settlements have yet to be realized in the absence of funding for water infrastructure. Securing water rights, moreover, often comes at a steep price: the forfeiture of any future claims. Unlike western states, Native nations must predict their water needs far into the unforeseeable future.75

Some tribal nations, nonetheless, have succeeded in driving hard bargains. In one of the most significant settlements, after eighty years of litigation, the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004 conferred power over 650,000 acre feet of Arizona’s water allocation from the Colorado River basin—enough to serve almost three million people—to the Akimel O’odhams (Pimas) of the Gila River Indian Community, the Tohono O’odhams, and the San Carlos Apaches.76 Now, nearly thirty tribal nations hold senior water rights to the Colorado River, controlling about 20 percent of its annual flow. Some have formed their own water coalition, the Ten Tribes Partnership, to ensure that Native nations have a seat at the table, as state governments and federal agencies—faced with climate change, a twenty-year megadrought, and a shrinking river—reallocate the sustenance of the Colorado River among the forty million people who depend on it. A place at the table, notes Daryl Vigil, a Jicarilla Apache water administrator, “has broader implications in terms of tribal sovereignty.” It offers “an opportunity to create your future.” It provides a forum for teaching the cultural, environmental, and spiritual values of the river and for obtaining water justice.77

Environmental Justice

Indigenous peoples have been leaders in the political movement for environmental justice, which generally focuses on poor and marginalized racial and ethnic communities that shoulder the burden of America’s toxic waste and other environmental hazards. At the same time, Indigenes have expanded the movement’s definition to include the struggle to regain land, protect sacred sites and cultural foods, and exercise sovereignty in managing water, forests, and other environmental resources. Activists have formed tribally based groups like Diné CARE, as well as pan-Indigenous organizations, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and Honor the Earth, and many have also joined coalitions with non-Native environmentalists and rural land users to fight for common cause.

This movement for Indigenous environmental justice has deep roots. Beginning in 1976, long before the movement had a name, a coalition led by the Sokaogon Chippewas (Ojibwes), which ultimately included the Forest County Potawatomi, Menominee, and Stockbridge-Munsee (Mohican) nations, as well as rural white people, worked to stop a proposed zinc and copper sulfide mine in northeastern Wisconsin owned by the Exxon Corporation. The mine threatened to pollute fishing lakes and wetlands that produce manoomin, or wild rice, a culturally significant food. Nearly three decades later, the coalition’s efforts paid off when a federal appeals court ruled in Clean Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency (2000) that sovereign Native nations had the right to set and enforce their own clean air and water standards. (In 1976, the Northern Cheyenne became the first tribal nation to establish enforceable air quality regulations, on the same basis as states, under the Clean Air Act, and in 1992, Isleta Pueblo became the first tribe to establish enforceable water quality regulations under the federal Clean Water Act, affirmed by the Tenth Circuit Court in City of Albuquerque v. Browner [1996].) Diné activists likewise took to the courts and Congress to win restitution for the damage to their bodies from uranium mining and milling. Those efforts culminated in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990, though it has proved challenging to qualify for recompense.78 These are but a few examples in which Native Americans have been the vanguard in the effort to halt mining, coal-fired powerplants, and petroleum pipelines that not only threaten the health and safety of Native and non-Native communities but also contribute to global climate change.

Food sovereignty—the right to procure, consume, and protect traditional food sources—has increasingly become an environmental justice issue, as well. Displacement from homelands and restrictions on Native hunting, fishing, and gathering impinged on traditional food systems, contributed to high rates of diabetes, and led to cultural loss. In response, Native nations and activists have promoted the revitalization of traditional foods for environmental and bodily health, cultural continuity, spirituality, and sovereignty.79 As Winona LaDuke has pointed out, “You can’t say you’re sovereign if you can’t feed yourself.”80

The efforts to protect sacred sites, moreover, distinguishes the Indigenous environmental justice movement. While the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act guarantees access to sacred sites, it does not protect them from desecration, even on public lands. San Francisco Peaks in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, for example, is a sacred place of emergence in the creation stories of more than a dozen southwestern tribes; it is the place where deities dwell, where ceremonies are sung, and where ritual and medicinal plants, waters, and stones are gathered. Nonetheless, federal courts have allowed the expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, despite repeated objections from the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, and Havasupai nations.81

Elsewhere, Indigenes have won victories, both large and small. Lakotas and others have sought to protect the sacred Mato Tilipa (Bear Lodge, popularly known as Devils Tower), which emerges from the earth on unceded Indigenous territory in Wyoming. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the country’s first national monument; it continued to be a significant ceremonial site for at least six Native nations on the northern plains. The volcanic monolith towers above the Wyoming prairie, captivating recreational rock climbers, who sometimes disturb or disrespect Native rites and sacred sites during their ascents. The National Park Service, in an effort at compromise, has discouraged climbing in June, the month of the Sun Dance and other important ceremonies, though compliance is voluntary. In Hawaiʻi, Kānaka Maoli activists formed the environmental organization Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), which campaigned to stop the US Navy from bombing the sacred island of Kaho‘olawe. Since the late 1930s, the military had used the island as a practice target, dropping thousands of tons of ordnance. PKO demanded a halt to the bombardment, the removal of military forces from the Pacific, and the restoration of Hawaiʻi as a sovereign nation. Decades of protests found a measure of success beginning in 1980, when the Navy agreed to stop shelling a portion of the island deemed most sacred to Kānaka Maoli and clear it of ordnance, protect historic sites, allow ceremonial use of the island on designated dates, and begin restoring the land. Finally, in 1990, under orders from President George H. W. Bush, the bombing of the island ended.82 Noa Emmett Aluli, of PKO, heralded the victory in 1980, proclaiming that “the work to heal the island will heal the soul of our people. Each time we pick up a stone to restore a cultural site . . . we pick up ourselves, as Hawaiians.”83

As with Kaho‘olawe, much of Indian Country has been treated as a national sacrifice zone. According to Ho-Chunk journalist Terri Hansen, Native communities live close to nearly 25 percent of the more than five hundred toxic places designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Superfund site, as of 2018.84 Native Americans’ responses toward toxic industries, however, have not been monolithic. Some tribal governments have welcomed them, in part because opportunities for economic prosperity on isolated, rural reservations are often extremely limited. Others have taken to the barricades. Intra- and intertribal conflicts over appropriate economic development reflect longstanding poverty, competing visions of the future, and differing notions of self-determination and tribal sovereignty.

Figure 6. Indigenous people and allies protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in San Francisco, November 2016.

Source: Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, courtesy of the photographer, Creative Commons.

Indigenous protests over proposed pipelines, which riveted national attention between 2012 and 2018, reveal both fractures and solidarity among Native nations. Both the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) were designed to carry crude oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, across the Great Plains and the ancestral lands of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and those of the MHA Nation, while skirting diminished reservations, before ultimately reaching refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. From 2012 through 2014, a coalition of ranchers, farmers, and Native Americans—which the media dubbed the “Cowboy and Indian Alliance”—protested the Keystone project. And yet the pipeline also initially gained support from the Kul Wicasa Oyate (Lower Brule Sioux), triggering an internecine battle for control of the tribal council. In 2016, a newly elected council changed course and opposed the project. After President Donald Trump fast-tracked the federal permit, the Rosebud Sioux Nation (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) and the Fort Belknap Indian Community sued the federal government. TC Energy Corporation (TransCanada) ultimately canceled the pipeline in 2021.85

The next public battle against pipelines erupted in 2016 (see figure 6). Led by women and young people, the Dakotas and Lakotas of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation gathered to block construction of DAPL. Supporters from more than three hundred Native nations, plus thousands of non-Native allies, joined the peaceful protest but faced a formidable display of militarized police power. The Lakota historian Nick Estes observed that this call for environmental justice demonstrated the power of multinational unity among Native nations. Nonetheless, Indigenous leaders on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where about one-quarter of North Dakota’s oil is produced, support the project. Completed in 2017, DAPL destroyed sacred cultural sites and runs under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe within a half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, threatening its drinking water. In 2020, a federal court ordered a new environmental review; meanwhile, 570,000 barrels of oil course through the pipeline daily.86

Similarly, in the Great Basin, Western Shoshones have resoundingly resisted proposals to store radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain—the US Department of Energy’s favored site—on land they never ceded in southern Utah, while the tribal council of the Goshutes of Skull Valley, in Nevada, solicited a temporary high-level radioactive waste storage site. The Goshute council’s decision deeply divided the small tribal nation, and the effort ultimately proved unsuccessful. For many Goshutes, most of whom have left the reservation for urban centers, the area is already a wasteland: the US military has long targeted the region in testing nuclear and biological weapons, airborne nerve agents, and more without ever consulting the Goshutes. For those who supported the waste facility, the key issue was tribal sovereignty, but it was grounded in an environment impoverished by settler colonialism. “We are using that sovereignty,” said tribal chairman Leon Bear, “to attract the only business we can get to come here.”87

Some Native nations have led efforts to document and remediate toxic sites. After more than a century of lead mining in a checkerboard of Quapaw allotments and non-Native lands along Tar Creek in northeastern Oklahoma, mountains of lead waste, called “chat,” had polluted soils and waterways, turning them rusty orange, killing downstream biota, and poisoning drinking water. In 1983, the EPA placed the site on its Superfund National Priorities List, but the cleanup proved sluggish, in part due to the jurisdictional complexities of checkerboard lands. In 2012, in a landmark government-to-government agreement, the Quapaws became the first tribal nation approved by the EPA to conduct its own remediation of a Superfund site, both off and on tribal lands.88

Or consider the Mohawks, whose homeland, Akwesasne, straddles the US–Canadian border. In the mid-1980s, they mobilized when they learned that the EPA had placed the General Motors plant, which bordered Akwesasne, on its Superfund list. The plant had leeched contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—known to cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems—into the St. Lawrence River, and those hazards flow downstream through the reservation. The Mohawks formed what eventually became the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment, which engaged in the first comprehensive community-based participatory research in the United States to document contamination in the food chain and set strict standards for remediation. They found alarming levels of PCBs and other industrial toxins in mothers’ breast milk, fish, and other aquatic wildlife, including turtles, an animal of sacred significance for its role in the Mohawks’ traditional tale of the creation of Turtle Island (North America). In the 21st century, after more than a decade working with the EPA and other agencies to remediate the ecological and social damage, the Mohawks can again consume culturally important fish from their waterways.89

No single story encompasses the relationships between Indigenous peoples and their environments; it is a multinational story with different—sometimes conflicting—environmental histories. While the stereotype of the Ecological Indian is misguided, so, too, are the images of Indigenous peoples and their environments as irreparably damaged or depleted, as the Aleut scholar Eve Tuck has argued. The history of Indigenous peoples and their environments is certainly marked by loss, but it is also characterized by resistance and survival, or what the Ojibwe writer and literary critic Gerald Vizenor has termed “survivance.”90 This survivance is embodied in the leadership of Indigenous peoples in the environmental justice movement, the increasing stewardship of public lands using traditional ecological knowledge, and the 2021 appointments of Laguna Pueblo citizen Deb Haaland as the US secretary of the interior, and Charles F. Sams III, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, as director of the National Park Service. Their appointments may open a new chapter in the history of Indigenous peoples and their environments.

Discussion of the Literature

The field of environmental history explores the ways in which humans and their environments have interacted and shaped each other over time. Many of the earliest studies of American environmental history centered on Native Americans, in part to establish a baseline for understanding the ecological changes that occurred with the arrival of Europeans but also to reveal how Europeans transformed the Indigenous world by introducing new diseases, plants, and animals, as well as novel systems of land ownership, the fragmentation of landscapes, and capitalist economies. Scholarship covering the late-19th century through the 21st century tends to focus on expropriation of land, legal and treaty issues, mineral resources, water, the “fish wars,” and the environmental justice movement. Much of this effort has focused on the western states; work remains to be done on the environmental history of those tribal nations remaining in the South and the Northeast.

Many scholars have written about the social and political history of Indigenous land loss, especially Indian Removal to distant or constricted reservations. And yet, surprisingly, there are few environmental histories of displacement or removal. Carol A. MacLennan’s story of Hawaiʻi, Sovereign Sugar, is a notable exception. Several historians have examined the reconfiguration of Indigenous lands under the Dawes Act, but considering the variation in the ways the act was implemented and received, much work remains to be done. Janet McDonnell’s overview builds on Angie Debo’s classic story of land dispossession, written in the 1930s, while Emily Greenwald and William J. Bauer Jr. (Wailacki and Concow) offer a ground-level view of how Native peoples subverted efforts to assimilate them into patriarchal families. By contrast, environmental historians have focused much attention on the loss of Native lands to national parks and wilderness areas. Karl Jacoby, Mark David Spence, and Louis S. Warren revealed the role of conservationists like George Bird Grinnell in restricting Native hunting to benefit elite sports hunters and expelling Native Americans from the national parks to create wilderness areas for tourists.91 Collectively, all of these studies have added complexity to the oft-told stories of loss.

Much recent scholarship has analyzed American Indian policy, law, and natural resources management, especially Indigenous rights to manage their minerals, oil, and waterways and reclaim treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather. Marjane Ambler and John Shurtz took a comprehensive approach to understand how US laws, policies, and court decisions restricted and reinvigorated tribal nations in managing their natural resources, while Theodore Catton, Kathleen Chamberlain, Michael Lawson, Larry Nesper, Roberta Ulrich, and others have provided specific case studies to illuminate how those policies played out in practice.92

Since the turn of the millennium, historiographical trends toward decolonizing history and writing comparative, transnational, and borderlands histories have shaped much of the scholarship on Native peoples and their environments.93 Bathsheba Demuth, Andrew Fisher, Joshua Reid (Snohomish), and Marsha Weisiger, for example, emphasized Indigenous sources, such as oral traditions, oral histories, and material culture, as well as the written record, to reveal Native perspectives on environmental change, policy, and justice. Increasingly, scholars such as Finis Dunaway, Zoltán Grossman, and Joshua Reid consult and collaborate with Native communities or are themselves Indigenous, bringing a deeper understanding of their sources to the work.94

Primary Sources

Much of the scholarship regarding Indigenous peoples and the environment since the 19th century draws on manuscript records and published primary sources produced by Euro-Americans; these include legal documents and tribal, state, and federal records. The producers of these documents viewed the Indigenous world through a colonial lens, and yet much useful information can be gleaned, sometimes including Native perspectives. A fruitful starting point is the Handbook of American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant and published in sixteen volumes.95 Volume 1 provides an overview of recent trends in writing Native American history; Volume 2 explores contemporary issues; Volume 3 offers descriptions of environmental resources; and Volumes 5 through 15 provide ethnographic descriptions of numerous tribal nations, their environments, and their cultural ideas, organized by region. Similarly, the Bureau of American Ethnology published many useful ethnographic descriptions of Indigenous peoples between 1897 and 1964 and includes a comprehensive index. Moreover, The Journal of American Folklore and American Anthropologist published pertinent ethnographic descriptions of Indigenous religions and sacred stories, economic systems, and environmental relationships in the early 20th century.

For those conducting in-depth scholarly studies of Indigenous environmental history, an indispensable cache of primary sources is that of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Record Group 75), found in the National Archives and Records Administration headquarters in Washington, DC, and at the administration’s regional centers in Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, Riverside (California), and Seattle. Especially useful are the records of the Alaska Division, Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division, Forestry Division, Irrigation Division, Land Division, Natural Resources, and the various superintendencies, field offices, and agencies pertaining to specific tribal nations. Useful manuscript collections may also be found in state, university, and tribal archives.

Published government records, especially congressional hearings and reports, can provide much useful environmental information, including testimony from Native people. Many of these are available online through the ProQuest Congressional database, accessible through major university research libraries. Researchers can search for information on specific tribal nations or particular issues. For example, the Survey on Conditions of the Indians of the United States, published in forty-one volumes, includes testimony and related reports from 1929 through 1943, stemming from hearings held by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the Great Depression. This wide-ranging inquiry into the state of Indian affairs provides insight into numerous environmental issues among tribal nations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Furthermore, Impacts of Environmental Changes on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands (2012) examines the effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples. Also useful are legal documents, including treaties and agreements between the US government and tribal nations, and legal decisions. A comprehensive database of treaties and agreements, the Tribal Treaties Database, is maintained by Oklahoma State University. For landmark legal decisions by the US Supreme Court, such as United States v. Winans (1905), Winters v. United States (1908), United States v. Washington (1974), Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians (1999), and Clean Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency (2000), the Justia U.S. Supreme Court Center maintains a database; Casetext offers the text for Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Chippewa Indians v. Voigt (1983).

Finding written primary sources that record the historical viewpoints of Indigenous people can be challenging. Among the most useful are oral traditions, oral histories, and oratory. Over the course of the late-19th and 20th centuries, ethnographers recorded and compiled oral traditions and origin stories. Although often referred to as “myths,” “legends,” or “folklore,” these stories explain creation and provide insight into cultural views about relations with the more-than-human world. One that includes an excellent commentary to orient readers toward Indigenous modes of storytelling is Karl Kroeber’s Native American Storytelling: A Reader of Myths and Legends.96 For a classic collection, see that of Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz (Ohkey Owingeh Pueblo), American Indian Myths and Legends.97 Some compilations focus on specific tribal nations or regions of the United States; see, for example, George E. Lankford’s Native American Legends of the Southeast: Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations and Ella E. Clark’s Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest.98

Oral histories with Native people may be found in university archives throughout the American West. Many of these were recorded by novice oral historians under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, which can be problematic but nonetheless useful. Some have been compiled into published collections; for example, see David La Vere’s book Life among the Texas Indians: The WPA Narratives and Theda Purdue’s Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865–1907.99 The Doris Duke Collection, a series of 6,500 interviews from across the United States, recorded between 1966 and 1972, is the most comprehensive collection of Native American oral histories; these are housed in seven university archives, each with unique regional holdings. The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums provides access to the various collections. Most of the transcripts are only now being digitized; however, those at the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collections are available in the Doris Duke Collection. Akin to oral histories are “life histories” and “autobiographies” recorded by ethnographers in the 20th century. Although edited and shaped by anthropologists, they often contain a wealth of useful information. Examples include Pretty Shield’s Pretty-Shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows, edited by Frank Lindeman, but more useful for understanding environmental relationships are less-known accounts, such as Charlotte Frisbie’s Tall Woman: The Life Story of Rose Mitchell, a Navajo Woman.100 Collections of speeches and other oratory by Indigenous leaders in response to colonial conquest and the loss of land and resources can also be useful; see, for example, Colin G. Calloway’s book Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost and Daniel M. Cobb’s edited volume Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887.101

For 20th- and 21st-century history, the online journal Cultural Survival Quarterly, which advocates for Indigenous peoples' rights, worldwide, often focuses on the relations between Indigenous peoples and the environment. Additionally, the regional environmental news magazine, High Country News, has covered western tribal nations and their environments since the 1990s, and even earlier for some tribal nations. The news archive may be found through the “advanced search” function.

Increasingly, Native people are creating important contemporary primary sources that articulate Indigenous relationships with their environments and document environmental activism. Among the most important are those by Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux), Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance; Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes), As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock; Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe), All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life; and Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi) Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.102

Further Reading

  • Ambler, Marjane. Breaking the Iron Bonds: Indian Control of Energy Development. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1990.
  • Catton, Theodore. Inhabited Wilderness: Indians, Eskimos, and National Parks in Alaska. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.
  • Catton, Theodore. American Indians and National Forests. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016.
  • Chamberlain, Kathleen P. Under Sacred Ground: A History of Navajo Oil, 1922–1982. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.
  • Demuth, Bathsheba. Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. New York: W. W. Norton, 2019.
  • Dunaway, Finis. Defending the Arctic Refuge: A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021.
  • Fisher, Andrew H. Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010.
  • Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019.
  • Greenwald, Emily. Reconfiguring the Reservation: The Nez Perces, Jicarilla Apaches, and the Dawes Act. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
  • Grossman, Zoltán. Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017.
  • Harkin, Michael E., and David Rich Lewis, eds. Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
  • Keller, Robert H., and Michael F. Turek. American Indians and National Parks. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998.
  • Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013.
  • Krech, Shepard III. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.
  • LaDuke, Winona. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999.
  • Lawson, Michael L. Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri-River Sioux, 1944–1980. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.
  • Lewis, David Rich. Neither Wolf nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • MacLennan, Carol A. Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaiʻi. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014.
  • McDonnell, Janet. The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887–1934. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Needham, Andrew. Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  • Nesper, Larry. The Walleye War: The Struggle for Ojibwe Spearfishing and Treaty Rights. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • Reid, Joshua L. The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Shurtz, John. Indian Reserved Water Rights: The Winters Doctrine in Its Social and Legal Context, 1880s–1930s. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
  • Spence, Mark David. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Ulrich, Roberta. Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River, 2nd ed. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2007.
  • Voyles, Traci Brynne. Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
  • Weisiger, Marsha. Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.
  • White, Richard. The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
  • Wilkerson, Charles. Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
  • Wilson, Terry P. The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.


  • 1. Based on James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee: Extract from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902), 239.

  • 2. Note on terminology: There is yet no consensus on the appropriate terminology for the original peoples of North America, and all carry their own historical and political baggage. When writing about specific groups, such as the Tohono O’odham, I generally use their current national name and provide their familiar name (Papagos), when it differs, in parentheses on the first usage. In instances where the national name differs from their autonym—their own name for themselves—as with the Navajo Nation (Diné), I use their national and cultural names depending on context. When discussing broader populations without specifying nationhood, I interchangeably use Native Americans, Natives, Indigenous people(s), Indigenes, and First Peoples, and reserve the term Indians (a term that many Native people themselves use) when referring to the settler colonial perspective or quoting others. I also use the often anachronistic “tribal nations” to honor and emphasize Indigenous sovereignty.

  • 3. See, for example, William J. Bauer Jr. (Wallacki and Concow), California through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016), chapter 2. The classic study of Indigenous place stories is Keith H. Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996).

  • 4. Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe), All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (South End Press, 1999), 2.

  • 5. Zoe Todd (Métis), “Fish Pluralities: Human-Animal Relations and Sites of Engagement in Paulatuuq, Arctic Canada,” Études/Inuit/Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2014): 218–219; and Raymond Pierotti, “The Role of Myth in Understanding Nature,” Ethnobiology Letters 7, no. 2 (2016): 6–13.

  • 6. Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomie), Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions, 2013), 106, 115.

  • 7. This discussion draws on J. Donald Hughes, North American Indian Ecology (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1983), chapters 2 and 3; also see Pierotti, “Role of Myth,” 9; and Michael E. Harkin and David Rich Lewis, eds., Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian (University of Nebraska Press, 2007).

  • 8. David Aftandilian, “Toward a Native American Theology of Animals: Creek and Cherokee Perspectives,” CrossCurrents 61, no. 2 (2011): 191–207.

  • 9. For an example, see Hughes, North American Indian Ecology.

  • 10. Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (W. W. Norton, 1999), 15–20. Also see Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998); Charles Alexander Eastman (Dakota name: Ohiyesa), The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911); and Eastman’s Indian Scout Talks: A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls (Boston: Little, Brown, 1914).

  • 11. I draw this argument from William Cronon and Richard White, “Indians in the Land,” American Heritage 37, no. 5 (1986): 18–25.

  • 12. For outstanding discussions, see Arthur F. McEvoy, The Fisherman’s Problem: Ecology and Law in the California Fisheries, 1850–1980 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986), chapter 2; and Joseph E. Taylor III, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), chapter 1. Also see Richard K. Nelson, Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

  • 13. Quoted in a speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act by Texas Senator Sam Houston, Cong. Globe, 33rd Cong., 1st Sess., 201 (1854).

  • 14. Angie Debo, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1940), 55. For a comprehensive list of unratified treaties in Oregon, California, and elsewhere, consult David H. DeJong, American Indian Treaties: A Guide to Ratified and Unratified Colonial, United States, State Foreign, and Intertribal Treaties and Agreements, 1607–1911 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015).

  • 15. Quoted in Joshua L. Reid, The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs (Yale University Press, 2015), 12.

  • 16. See, for example, Louis S. Warren, The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), chapter 3; and Karl Jacoby, Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pts. 2–3.

  • 17. See, for example, David Rich Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change (Oxford University Press, 1994), chapter 3.

  • 18. “Ak chin” (meaning “at the mouths of washes”) refers to an irrigation strategy in which people locate fields of drought-resistant crops at the mouths of arroyos formed by seasonal runoff and, by constructing brush dams, divert and spread floodwaters and their organic debris across the fields. See Gary Paul Nabham, The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982), 125.

  • 19. The agency that became the Bureau of Indian Affairs was called, variously, the Indian Service and the Office of Indian Affairs, until 1947, when it gained bureau status. To avoid unnecessary confusion, I refer to it as the BIA throughout.

  • 20. Quoted in Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog, 147. Emphasis added.

  • 21. Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog, chapter 7; and Eric V. Meeks, “The Tohono O’odham, Wage Labor, and Resistant Adaptation, 1900–1930,” Western Historical Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2003): 468–489.

  • 22. Warren, Hunter’s Game, chapter 5; Robert H. Keller and Michael F. Turek, American Indians and National Parks (University of Arizona Press, 1998); Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (Oxford University Press, 1999); and Philip Burnham, Indian Country, God’s Country: Native Americans and the National Parks (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000).

  • 23. Theodore Catton, American Indians and National Forests (University of Arizona Press, 2016), 40–44, 80–87, 94–102; and Laura J. Martin, Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022), 30–41.

  • 24. Kenneth H. Bobroff, “Retelling Allotment: Indian Property Rights and the Myth of Common Ownership,” Vanderbilt Law Review 54, no. 4 (2001): 1557–1623; and Micah A. Pawling, “A ‘Labyrinth of Uncertainties’: Penobscot River Islands, Land Assignments, and Indigenous Women Proprietors in Nineteenth-Century Maine,” American Indian Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2018): 456–458. Also see Cronon, Changes in the Land, chapter 4.

  • 25. The 2020 US Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, however, held that when Congress allotted lands on the Creek Reservation, home of the Muscogee people, and threw the surplus open to white settlement, it did not expressly extinguish the reservation itself. Thus, even though most of those lands are not owned by Muscogees, the area remains a reservation, and tribal and federal jurisdiction prevails, at least in matters of criminal law involving Native people. Subsequent courts have held that this decision applies, as well, to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations and, perhaps, other tribal nations if Congress did not expressly disestablish reservations at the time of allotment. See McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452, 2459 (2020).

  • 26. The classic story of dispossession through the Dawes Act and subsequent congressional acts is Debo, And Still the Waters Run. For a less polemical analysis, see Janet McDonnell, The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887–1934 (Indiana University Press, 1991). One of the best analyses, focusing on the complexities of allotment in the Creek Nation, is David A. Chang, The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832–1929 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); also consult Charles F. Wilkinson, The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010), chapter 10.

  • 27. Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog, chapter 5; Bobroff, “Retelling Allotment,” 1603–1607; Emily Greenwald, Reconfiguring the Reservation: The Nez Perces, Jicarilla Apaches, and the Dawes Act (University of New Mexico Press, 2002); John W. Heaton, The Shoshone-Bannocks: Culture and Commerce at Fort Hall, 1870–1940 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005); Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country (University of Washington Press, 2009), 144–145; and Andrew H. Fisher, Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity (Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, 2010), 90–91. The Indian Homestead Acts of 1875 and 1884 extended the Homestead Act of 1862 to Native Americans.

  • 28. Carol A. MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaiʻi (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014), 1–51.

  • 29. The history of mineral leasing on Indian reservations is far too complex to adequately summarize here. See Marjane Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds: Indian Control of Energy Development (University of Kansas Press, 1990), chapter 1; and Garrit Voggesser, “The Evolution of Federal Energy Policy for Tribal Lands and the Renewable Energy Future,” in Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest, ed. Sherry L. Smith and Brian Frehner (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2010), 56–59.

  • 30. Terry P. Wilson, The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (University of Nebraska Press, 1985); Rennard Strickland, “Osage Oil: Mineral Law, Murder, Mayhem, and Manipulation,” Natural Resources and Environment 10, no. 1 (1995): 39–43. Also see Alexandra Harmon, Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), chapter 5.

  • 31. Kathleen P. Chamberlain, Under Sacred Ground: A History of Navajo Oil, 1922–1982 (University of New Mexico Press, 2000).

  • 32. Lawrence C. Kelly, “The Indian Reorganization Act: The Dream and the Reality,” Pacific Historical Review 44, no. 3 (1975): 291–312; Lawrence C. Kelly, The Assault on Assimilation: John Collier and the Origins of Indian Policy Reform (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983); and Graham D. Taylor, The New Deal and American Indian Tribalism: The Administration of the Indian Reorganization Act, 1934–45 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980).

  • 33. Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, 51–53.

  • 34. The CCC-ID was originally called the Indian Emergency Conservation Work.

  • 35. Donald Parman, “The Indian and the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Pacific Historical Review 40, no. 1 (1971): 39–56; Calvin W. Gower, “The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans, 1933–1942,” Minnesota History 43, no. 1 (1972): 3–13; Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog, 109, 155–159; and Jeffrey P. Shepherd, We Are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010), 130–132.

  • 36. Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country; also see White, Roots of Dependency, chapters 10–13. For a similar story involving the Tohono O’Odham, see Lewis, Neither Wolf nor Dog, 157–161.

  • 37. The phrase is from Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995). Also see Roberta Ulrich, Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River, 2nd ed. (Oregon State University Press, 2007).

  • 38. “Northwest Indians Bid Farewell to Tradition,” Tacoma News Tribune, June 17, 1940, 1.

  • 39. Quoted in Katrine Barber, Death of Celilo Falls (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 6.

  • 40. Barber, Death of Celilo Falls; and Fisher, Shadow Tribe.

  • 41. Clayton R. Koppes, “From New Deal to Termination: Liberalism and Indian Policy, 1933–1953,” Pacific Historical Review 46, no. 4 (1977): 543–566; Charles F. Wilkinson and Eric R. Biggs, “The Evolution of the Termination Policy,” American Indian Law Review 5, no. 1 (1977): 139–184; Kenneth R. Philip, “Termination: A Legacy of the Indian New Deal,” Western Historical Quarterly 14, no. 2 (1983): 165–180; Don L. Fixico, Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945–1960 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990); and Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 91–94.

  • 42. Paul C. Rosier, “Dam Building and Treaty Breaking: The Kinzua Dam Controversy, 1936–1958,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 119, no. 4 (1995): 345–368.

  • 43. Federal Power Corporation v. Tuscarora Indian Nation, 362 U.S. 99 (1960).

  • 44. These were the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, and Yankton Sioux reservations and the Fort Berthold reservation.

  • 45. Roy W. Meyer, “Fort Berthold and the Garrison Dam,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 35, no. 3/4 (1968): 217–355; Michael L. Lawson, Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri-River Sioux, 1944–1980 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1982). Also see Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (London: Verso, 2019), chapter 4.

  • 46. Quoted in Lawson, Dammed Indians, xiv.

  • 47. The plant was called the Hanford Engineering Works to disguise its purpose during World War II but was renamed the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 1947.

  • 48. Those reservations are home to the Colville Confederated Tribes, the Spokanes, the Kalispels, the Kootenais, the Schitsu’umsh (Coeur D’Alene), the Nimiipuu, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Yakamas.

  • 49. For a succinct summary, see Anita Moore-Hall, “The Legacy of Uranium Development on or Near Indian Reservations and Health Implications Rekindling Public Awareness,” Geosciences 5, no. 1 (2015): 15–29. For a primer on the health effects of uranium, see Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Uranium: Its Uses and Hazards,” factsheet.

  • 50. On economic conditions after livestock reduction, see Colleen O’Neill, Working the Navajo Way: Labor and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005). On Navajo uranium mining, see Doug Brugge and Rob Goble, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People,” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1410–1419; Judy Pasternak, Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and the Betrayal of the Navajos (New York: Free Press, 2010); Marsha Weisiger, “Happy Cly and the Unhappy History of Uranium Mining on the Navajo Reservation,” Environmental History 17, no. 1 (2012): 147–159; Moore-Hall, “Legacy of Uranium Development,” 17–18; Traci Brynne Voyles, Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country (University of Minnesota Press, 2015); also see Return of Navajo Boy & Epilogue, directed by Jeff Spitz (Chicago: Groundswell Educational Films, 2008), evideo.

  • 51. Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, 174–176; Doug Brugge, Jamie L. deLemos, and Cat Bui, “The Sequoyah Corporation Fuels Release and the Church Rock Spill: Unpublicized Nuclear Releases in American Indian Communities,” American Journal of Public Health 97, no. 9 (2007): 1595–1600; Linda M. Richards, “On Poisoned Ground,” Distillations Magazine, April 22, 2013; and Voyles, Wastelanding, 163–170.

  • 52. Navajo Nation, “Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. Signs Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005,” Navajo Nation, press release, April 30, 2005.

  • 53. Andrew Needham, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (Princeton University Press, 2014), chapters 4–5, provides an outstanding discussion of the development of coal-fueled power and its colonial implications. Also see Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, 66, 221–224; and Leah S. Glaser, Electrifying the Rural American West: Stories of Power, People, and Place (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), chapter 3. On John Boyden, see Charles Wilkinson, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 309–310. For information on health, see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Four Corners Power Plant Clean Air Act Settlement,” June 24, 2015. On the successful campaign against the Desert Rock Energy Project, see Dana E. Powell, Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

  • 54. Dean J. Kotlowski, “Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, and Beyond: The Nixon and Ford Administrations Respond to Native American Protest,” Pacific Historical Review 72, no. 2 (2003): 206; and Sherry L. Smith, Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 139–142.

  • 55. U.S. Constitution, art. VI,

  • 56. United States v. Winans, 198 U.S. 371 (1905), emphasis added; and DeJong, American Indian Treaties, 6–7.

  • 57. Norris Hundley Jr., “The ‘Winters’ Decision and Indian Water Rights: A Mystery Reexamined,” Western Historical Quarterly 13, no. 1 (1982): 17–42; and John Shurtz, Indian Reserved Water Rights: The Winters Doctrine in Its Social and Legal Context, 1880s–1930s (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000).

  • 58. Jovana J. Brown, “Treaty Rights: Twenty Years after the Boldt Decision,” Wicazo Sa Review 10, no. 2 (1994): 1–16; Bradley G. Shreve, “‘From Time Immemorial’: The Fish-In Movement and the Rise of Intertribal Activism,” Pacific Historical Review 78, no. 3 (2009): 403–434; Smith, Hippies, Indians, and Red Power, chapter 1; and Zoltán Grossman, Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands (University of Washington Press, 2017), chapter 1. A similar case in 1969, Sohappy v. Smith, had acknowledged the right of the Yakamas and certain other tribes in the region to fish in their usual places along the Columbia River. Also see Reid, Sea Is My Country, chapter 6.

  • 59. Patty Loew, “Hidden Transcripts in the Chippewa Treaty Rights Struggle: A Twice Told Story; Race, Resistance, and the Politics of Power,” American Indian Quarterly 21, no. 4 (1997): 713–728; Larry Nesper, The Walleye War: The Struggle for Ojibwe Spearfishing and Treaty Rights (University of Nebraska Press, 2002), chapter 4; Patty Loew and James Thannum, “After the Storm: Ojibwe Treaty Rights Twenty-Five Years after the Voigt Decision,” American Indian Quarterly 35, no. 2 (2011): 161–191; and Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, 209–228.

  • 60. Reid, Sea Is My Country, chapter 6 and conclusion. On the complexity of the US–Canadian borderlands, also see Lissa K. Wadewitz, The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012).

  • 61. The Klamath Tribes are a confederation of the Klamaths, Modocs, and Yahooskin Paiutes, who live on the border of California and Oregon.

  • 62. Duncan A. Harkin, “The Significance of the Menominee Experience in the Forest History of the Great Lakes Region,” in Great Lakes Forest: An Environmental and Social History, ed. Susan Flader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979), 96–112; Brian Hosmer, “Creating Indian Entrepreneurs: Menominees, Neopit Mills, and Timber Exploitation, 1890–1915,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 15, no. 1 (1991): 1–28; and David A. Mausel, Anthony Waupochick Jr., and Marshall Pecore, “Menominee Forestry: Past, Present, and Future,” Journal of Forestry 115, no. 5 (2017): 366–369.

  • 63. Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 91–94; Monika Bilka, “Klamath Tribal Persistence, State Resistance: Treaty Rights Activism, the Threat of Tribal Sovereignty, and Collaborative Natural Resource Management in the Pacific Northwest, 1954–1981,” Western Historical Quarterly 48, no. 3 (2017): 255–275. The quote is from Bilka, “Remaking a People, Restoring a Watershed: Klamath Tribal Empowerment through Natural Resource Activism, 1960–2017” (PhD diss., Arizona State University, 2015), 127.

  • 64. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians is an amalgamation of tribes and bands from central and western Oregon, including the Alsea, Chetco, Chinook, Clatsop, Coos, Coquelle, Galice/Applegate, Kalapuya, Klickitat, Molala, Shasta, Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua, Takelma, Tillamook, Tolowa, Tututni, and Upper Umpqua. Each had its own separate history, and they spoke at least ten different languages before being removed to the Siletz Reservation.

  • 65. Wilkinson, People Are Dancing Again, chapters 14–15.

  • 66. Darla J. Mondou, “Our Land Is What Makes Us Who We Are: Timber Harvesting on Tribal Reservations after the NIFRMA,” American Indian Law Review 21, no. 2 (1997): 259–296.

  • 67. Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 263–267; Martin Nie, “The Use of Co-management and Protected Land Use Designations to Protect Tribal Cultural Resources and Reserved Treaty Rights on Federal Lands,” Natural Resources Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 585–647; Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, chapter 1; and US Department of the Interior, “BLM, Forest Service and Five Tribes of the Bears Ears Commission Commit to Historic Co-management of Bears Ears National Monument,” press release, June 21, 2022.

  • 68. Instead of creating reservations, Congress sought ultimately to assimilate Alaska Natives through the establishment of state-chartered Native corporations as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Those Native corporations, however, were not the same as sovereign tribal governments.

  • 69. Theodore Catton coined the term inhabited wilderness in, Inhabited Wilderness: Indians, Eskimos, and National Parks in Alaska (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997).

  • 70. Quoted in Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 239.

  • 71. Catton, American Indians and National Forests, chapter 12; Chase Hensel and Phyllis Morrow, “Co-management and Co-optation: Alaska Native Participation in Regulatory Processes,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 22, no. 3 (1998); Joseph J. Spaeder, “Co-management in a Landscape of Resistance: The Political Ecology of Wildlife Management in Western Alaska,” Anthropologica 47, no. 2 (2005): 165–178; and Annette Watson, “Misunderstanding the ‘Nature’ of Co-management: A Geography of Regulatory Science and Indigenous Knowledges (IK),” Environmental Management 52, no. 5 (2013): 1085–1102.

  • 72. Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, 74, 84. On the oil embargo, see Mark Fiege, “It’s a Gas: The United States and the Oil Shock of 1973–74,” in The Republic of Nature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), chapter 9; and Paul Sabin, “Crisis and Continuity in U.S. Oil Politics, 1965–1980,” Journal of American History 99, no. 1 (2012): 177–186.

  • 73. Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, chapters 4 and 9.

  • 74. Gregory Scruggs, “Polar Opposites: The Remote Alaskan Village Divided over Oil Drilling,” Reuters, April 24, 2019; Finis Dunaway, Defending the Arctic Refuge: A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice (University of North Carolina Press, 2021); and Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds, chapters 3–5.

  • 75. Daniel McCool, Native Waters: Contemporary Indian Water Settlements and the Second Treaty Era (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002), 7–9, 76–79, 81–86; and Emily Benson, “Tribal Nations Hold Some of the Best Water Rights in the West,” High Country News, May 23, 2018.

  • 76. Daniel Kraker, “The New Water Czars,” High Country News, March 15, 2004; Joshua Zaffos, “A Tribe Wins Rights to Contested Groundwater in Court,” High Country News, April 5, 2017; and Elena Saavedra Buckley, “One Tribal Nation Could Decide the Fate of Arizona’s Drought Plan,” High Country News, January 28, 2019.

  • 77. Anna V. Smith, “‘This System Cannot Be Sustained,’” High Country News, March 10, 2020.

  • 78. Glenn C. Reynolds, “A Native American Land Ethic,” Natural Resources and Environment 21, no. 3 (2007): 16–20; Janet K. Baker, “Tribal Water Quality Standards: Are There Any Limits?” Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum 7, no. 2 (1997): 367–391; Rachel L. Spieldoch, “Uranium Is in My Body,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 20, no. 2 (1996): 173–185; and Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, 141–143, 239–257.

  • 79. Devon A. Mihesuah and Elizabeth Hoover, eds., Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019); Carolyn J. McClellan, “Food Sovereignty,” American Indian, the Magazine of the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian 19, no. 2 (Summer 2018). For the most comprehensive discussion of Native American environmental justice, see Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes), As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (Beacon Press, 2019); also see LaDuke, All Our Relations; and Karen Jarratt-Snider and Marianne O. Nielsen, eds., Indigenous Environmental Justice (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2020).

  • 80. Mihesuah and Hoover, Indigenous Food Sovereignty, 87.

  • 81. Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service, 479 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2007); and Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 219–222.

  • 82. Eric Freedman, “Protecting Sacred Sites on Public Land: Religion and Alliances in the Mato Tipila-Devils Tower Litigation,” American Indian Quarterly 31, no. 1 (2007): 1–22; and Mansel G. Blackford, “Environmental Justice, Native Rights, Tourism, and Opposition to Military Control: The Case of Kaho‘olawe,” Journal of American History 91, no. 2 (2004): 544–571.

  • 83. Blackford, “Environmental Justice,” 544.

  • 84. Terri Hansen, “Kill the Land, Kill the People: There Are 532 Superfund Sites in Indian Country!Indian Country Today, September 13, 2018; and Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows, chapter 2.

  • 85. Keystone XL Pipeline Map, Climate Alliance Mapping Project; Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, 171, 177–187; Estes, Our History Is the Future, chapter 1; Jacey Fortin and Lisa Friedman, “Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Review, Federal Judge Rules,” New York Times, July 6, 2020; and Native American Rights Fund, “Keystone XL Pipeline,” June 9, 2021.

  • 86. Amy Sisk, “While One Tribe Fights Oil, Another Cautiously Embraces It,” Inside Energy, November 22, 2016; Nick Estes, “Fighting for Our Lives: #NoDAPL in Historical Context,” Wicazo Sa Review 32, no. 2 (2017): 115–122; Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows, Introduction; Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, 188–192; Haydee J. Dijkstal, “The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage: Apply the Crime Against Humanity of Persecution Before the ICC,” Minnesota Journal of International Law 277 (2019): 156–215; and Kandi White and Katherine Todrys, “5 Years after Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline Continues Operating—Illegally,” Grist, September 1, 2021.

  • 87. David Rich Lewis, “Skull Valley Goshutes and the Politics of Nuclear Waste: Environment, Economic Development, and Tribal Sovereignty,” in Harkin and Lewis, eds., Native Americans and the Environment, 304–342; and Noriko Ishiyama, “Environmental Justice and American Indian Tribal Sovereignty: Case Study of a Land-Use Conflict in Skull Valley, Utah,” Antipode 35, no. 1 (2003): 133.

  • 88. Karen Jarratt-Snider, “Two Cases of Navigating Legal Complexity: Environmental Justice in Barrow and Tar Creek,” in Jarratt-Snider and Nielsen, Indigenous Environmental Justice, 126–133.

  • 89. Elizabeth Hoover, The River Is in Us: Fighting Toxics in a Mohawk Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Learn about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).

  • 90. Eve Tuck, “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities,” Harvard Educational Review 79, no. 3 (2009): 409–427; and Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994).

  • 91. Debo, Still the Waters Run; McDonnell, Dispossession of the American Indian; Greenwald, Reconfiguring the Reservation; William J. Bauer Jr., We Were All Like Migrant Workers Here (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), chapter 5; Spence, Dispossessing Wilderness; Warren, Hunter’s Game; and Jacoby, Crimes against Nature.

  • 92. Ambler, Breaking the Iron Bonds; Shurtz, Indian Reserved Water Rights; Catton, Inhabited Wilderness; Catton, American Indians and National Forests; Chamberlain, Under Sacred Ground; Lawson, Dammed Indians; Nesper, Walleye War; and Ulrich, Empty Nets.

  • 93. On decolonizing history, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books, 1999) is the classic study in the field, focusing on the Maori of New Zealand; for decolonial approaches to Native American scholarship, see Peter Nabokov, A Forest of Time: American Indian Ways of History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002). On borderlands and transnational histories, see Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 338–361; and Douglas Sackman, “Trafficking Nature and Labor Across Borders: The Transnational Return of U.S. Environmental History,” International Labor and Working-Class History 85 (2014): 177–193.

  • 94. Demuth, Floating Coast; Fisher, Shadow Tribe; Grossman, Unlikely Alliances; Reid, Sea Is My Country; Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep; and Dunaway, Defending the Arctic Refuge.

  • 95. William C. Sturtevant, gen. ed., Handbook of North American Indians, 16 vols. (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978–2022).

  • 96. Karl Kroeber, ed., Native American Storytelling: A Reader of Myths and Legends (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004).

  • 96. Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz (Ohkey Owingeh Pueblo), eds., American Indian Myths and Legends (New York: Pantheon, 1984).

  • 99. George E. Lankford, ed., Native American Legends of the Southeast: Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011); and Ella E. Clark, ed., Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

  • 99. David La Vere, Life among the Texas Indians: The WPA Narratives (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1998); and Theda Purdue, Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865–1907 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

  • 100. Pretty Shield, Pretty-Shield: Medicine Woman of the Crows, ed. Frank Lindeman (New York: Harper Perennial, 2021); and Charlotte Frisbie, ed., Tall Woman: The Life Story of Rose Mitchell, a Navajo Woman (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001).

  • 101. Colin G. Calloway, Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1996); and Daniel M. Cobb, ed., Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

  • 102. Estes, Our History Is the Future; Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows; LaDuke, All Our Relations; and Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.