Dam Building and Indian LandsThesis Paper

Dam Building and Indian Lands

The Native Americans have had much to suffer as a result of the colonists entering their territory and robbing them of their lands. While some cultures might consider territorial possessions to have a less significant value in comparison to others, Native Americans think otherwise. Furthermore, they believe that lands have a spiritual importance and that their society is closely connected to them. Approximately until the start of the twentieth century the Native population in America could not express its convictions because of the discrimination dominating the American society. However, in the twentieth century, and, principally, in the recent decades, Native Americans took advantage of the government giving them the right to reclaim their lands.

Ever since their first landing on the American continent white people did not hesitate to use force in order to get what they wanted. Natives vainly struggled to keep their possessions, as the colonists had had more experience in conducting warfare. From there on, it became obvious that the natives had little chances of keeping their material possessions and their cultural values.

Matters had become critical as the colonists had practically begun a process of ethnic cleansing. It is not certain whether or not the conquistadores had actually intended to harm the Native American community through their actions. However, it is clear that they have had a main influence in the natives being deprived of their basic needs.

Being more interested in becoming rich than they were in the well-being of Native Americans, the colonists showed no compassion whatsoever toward the Indian tribes. Because of their inferiority in strength, natives had to make various agreements with the whites, in hope that they would at least be granted some limited rights. In certain cases, the tribes would give up large areas of terrain in exchange for rights relating to them being left with the permission of hunting in certain locations.

Salmon, for example, has a dual role in some Native American communities, as it is both used as food and as a tool in ceremonial practices. The Indians had been accustomed to hunting across the American Continent for hundreds of years before the white people came.

In order for the fish population to be plentiful, the natives organized religious ceremonies which would presumably assist them in capturing large amounts of fish every year.

White people have constantly felt the need to expand over American territory. Concepts such as the Manifest Destiny are mainly responsible for having made Indians retreat into reservations provided to them by the American government. However, even when they became certain that they had a territory of their own that no one would ever rob them of, the natives could not fully benefit of its resources. Resources in Native American reservations were usually scarce, either because the lands had initially been infertile, or because white people damaged the capacities that territories had had to produce good harvests.

The building of dams near areas known to have a connection to Indian tribes has had devastating effects on the Native American population. The operation and the construction of dams have affected the tribes from several points-of-view. Firstly, as is the case with the tribes from the Columbia River Basin, people could no longer benefit from fishing, which had been one of their main living sources. A large number of dams have been constructed across the twentieth century, with no regard whatsoever to the effects that they had on the environment and on the Native Americans in their vicinity. It appears that the government considered money and the well-being of white people to be more important than anything. Living standards have not changed much along with the passing of time for the Native Americans, as they still have problems adapting as a minority.

It is generally known that the U.S. government has not really paid interest to the suffering that it provoked to Indian tribes.

However, in the case of the salmon population being decimated, the natives are not the only ones being affected. The decrease of salmon in the Columbia River Basin has lead to the loss of billions of dollars from where both the natives and the American government would have benefited.

The main food sources that Indian tribes had at the time when the colonists expanded their sphere of influence had been the salmon and the bison. The white expansion had almost leaded to the extinction of bison and salmon from the areas where both species previously flourished. However, on top of being starved by the American government, Indian tribes have also lost some of their most priced possession in the process of white expansion. The Native American ancient burial grounds have been carelessly treated by the American authorities.

The construction of a dam in the second half of the twentieth century did not initially appear to present any threat to the Native Americans living in the area. Because of the snow melting each year, there is a risk for the dam to be damaged as a result of the amount of water coming in exceeding the normal limits. The dam has been considered to be beneficial for the people living in the area until recently, when an Indian tribe claimed that an ancient burial ground stood above the dam. Experts discovered that the water previously held by the dam did indeed cover the remains of ancient Native Americans. Uncertain if the tribe reclaiming the territory had had any connection to the people buried there, the American government could not act in favor of the Indian tribe.

Whether or not the people wanting to get back the land are entitled to do so makes no difference in the overall state of affairs. It is unconceivable that the Indian tribe presently residing in the vicinity has managed to discover the ancient burial ground and that the people having built the dam could not. When relating to concepts such as ownership and control over property, the Native American tribe presently pressing their case have little to no proof that the ancient burial ground actually belongs to them.

Even if that the Native American tribe would eventually prove that they are descendents of the people buried above the dam, the American government would still have trouble fixing the situation. Of course, the tribe’s main concern is to receive ownership over the ancient burial ground. The American government approved the dam’s construction over the ancient burial ground with no regard to the fact that it had had a great spiritual value to a certain tribe that are direct descendents of those buried there. The first things that springs to mind when considering this would be that there would be no reason for the Native American tribe to by any more caring that the American government.

It is surprising that the dam is rather new, and, that it had been built in a period when Native Americans had presumably been equal to white people. It would have been less surprising if white people were to deprive a certain Native American tribe of its ancient burial grounds hundreds of years earlier, when matters had been different and such an act would have been motivated by the lack of civilization.

In today’s society, any person that is rational would not think twice in dealing with the condition, as evolution has presumably lead people to a stage when any material possession is less valuable than the well-being of a community of people. Also, when being asked if he or she would continue to push their cases if they were part of the tribe, one would most certainly claim that they would quit lobbying and accept the situation as it is, irreparable. However, most people cannot understand the spiritual value that an ancient burial ground has for a Native American community.

Taking into account the fact that most Native American communities in the U.S. are poor and have little means of acting in favor of their rights, there are little chances for the tribe to succeed in promoting its situation. Even with that, if the tribe eventually thrives in its dispute with the American government, there are little chances that the authorities will simply cede the territory and risk encountering economical difficulties in the area.

When comparing the case from the dam constructed in the Columbia River Basin with the one from the ancient burial ground found above a dam, one might realize that the American government will most probably ignore the struggle that Native American tribes go through in order to regain their cultural values. Considering the fact that the American government did not act in favor of the salmon population being rejuvenated, even though this would have brought large profits to the country, it is almost certain that it generally prefers to leave the Native American tribes lobbying without getting actively involved in solving the situation.

While no one can actually link dams being built in the Columbia River Basin to the decrease in salmon population, people can actually prove that the dam having been built downriver from the Native American burial ground actually goes against the legislation installed by the Federal Government relating to the Indian tribes having the right to protect their ancient burial grounds.

Clearly, at the time when the dam was being built, no one cared if it would have had devastating effects on certain communities, since it had been certain that no white community would have been affected by the construction. One could go as far as claiming that the Native Americans have been discriminated, and, that they had no eyes in favor of the people that have approved the dam’s construction in the territory.

The American government would come across several problems when being put against the ancient burial ground ethical dilemma. Leaders normally pay great importance to getting as much people as they can to vote them. Thus, if the present American president would continue to ignore the demands made by the Native American tribe, it would ruin his reputation among Native American tribes across the U.S.

The Federal Government will lose large amounts of money if it were to comply and return the ancient burial grounds to its rightful owners (presuming that the Native American tribe is actually descending from the one buried above the dam). Even with that, one must take responsibility for the actions that he or she performs, which is exactly the case with the American government.

Native Americans cannot be condemned for their struggle to regain what is lawfully theirs. The first tendency of the general public concerning the matter would be to criticize natives, claiming that people should be more interested in the security of others than in material property.

Works cited:

1. Coffey, Louis. (2006). Mediated Settlement of a Native American Land Claim. The CPA Journal. Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

2. Grigg, William Norman, (2002, July 15) Protector of the Nez Perce: Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe Excelled as a Military Strategist, Courageously Fought as a Warrior, and Valiantly Protected Those Entrusted to His Care,” the New American, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

3. Kay Roels, Starla, (1998) Borrowing Instead of Taking: How the Seemingly Opposite Threads of Indian Treaty Rights and Property Rights Activism Could Intertwine to Restore Salmon to the Rivers. Environmental Law 28.2: 375, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

4. Simms, Andrew, (2003, September 15). Who Owns the World? Everything-From Land, Water and Plant Seeds to Folk Stories and Football Results-Can Now Be Claimed as Private Property. Andrew Simms on the New Enclosures,” New Statesman, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

Simms, Andrew, (2003, September 15). Who Owns the World? Everything-From Land, Water and Plant Seeds to Folk Stories and Football Results-Can Now Be Claimed as Private Property. Andrew Simms on the New Enclosures,” New Statesman, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

Kay Roels, Starla, (1998) Borrowing Instead of Taking: How the Seemingly Opposite Threads of Indian Treaty Rights and Property Rights Activism Could Intertwine to Restore Salmon to the Rivers. Environmental Law 28.2: 375, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

Weyler, Rex. (1982). Blood of the land: the government and corporate war against the American Indian Movement. Everest House.


Coffey, Louis. (2006). Mediated Settlement of a Native American Land Claim. The CPA Journal. Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

Hart Benton, Thomas. (1856). Thirty years’ view; or, a history of the working of the American government for thirty years, from 1820 to 1850: Chiefly taken from the Congress debates, the private papers of General Jackson, and the speeches of ex-Senator Benton, with his actual view of men and affairs; with historical notes … http://books.google.ro/books?q=+bibliogroup:%22Thirty+Years%27+View%3B+or,+a+History+of+the+Working+of+the+American+Government+for+Thirty+Years,+from+1820+to+1850:+Chiefly+Taken+from+the+Congress+Debates,+the+Private+Papers+of+General+Jackson,+and+the+Speeches+of+Ex-Senator+Benton,+with+His+Actual+View+of+Men+and+Affairs%3B+with+Historical+Notes+and+Illustrations,+and+Some+Notices+of+Eminent+Deceased+Contemporaries%22&source=gbs_metadata_r&cad=7

Thirty Years’ View; or, a History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820 to 1850: Chiefly Taken from the Congress Debates, the Private Papers of General Jackson, and the Speeches of Ex-Senator Benton, with His Actual View of Men and Affairs; with Historical Notes and Illustrations, and Some Notices of Eminent Deceased Contemporaries?, ?



Grigg, William Norman, (2002, July 15) Protector of the Nez Perce: Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe Excelled as a Military Strategist, Courageously Fought as a Warrior, and Valiantly Protected Those Entrusted to His Care,” the New American, Questia, Web, 21 Feb. 2010.

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