Native American Tribes and dam removal: Restoring the Ottaway, Penobscot and Elwha rivers

Coleen A. Fox
Dartmouth College, Geography and Environmental Studies, Hanover, NH, USA; coleen.a.fox@dartmouth.edu

Nicholas J. Reo
Dartmouth College, Native American Studies and Environmental Studies, Hanover, NH, USA; nicholas.j.reo@dartmouth.edu

Brett Fessell
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Peshawbestown, MI, USA; brett.fessell@gtbindians.com

Frank Dituri
City of Traverse City Department of Public Services, Traverse City, MI, USA; fdituri@traversecitymi.gov

ABSTRACT: Since the early 1900s, more than 1700 dams have been removed from rivers in the United States. Native American Tribes have played a key role in many significant removals, bringing cultural, economic, and legal resources to bear on the process. Their involvement contrasts with the displacement and marginalisation that have historically characterised the relationship between Native Americans and the dams built by settler – colonial governments on their rivers. Our research investigates Tribal involvement in dam removals, with examples from the Ottaway, Penobscot, and Elwha rivers. We ask the following: what roles have Tribes played in successful removals? How do dam removals affect and reflect shifting relations between Tribal governments and non-Tribal actors? Our research finds that Tribal involvement provides opportunities for inserting underacknowledged values and resource claims into dam removal efforts, and that it facilitates new collaborations and alliances. We also find evidence of Tribal involvement affecting the nature and practice of river restoration through dam removal. We conclude that the involvement of Tribes in dam removal contributes to important shifts in environmental politics in the US, and that it also creates opportunities for restorative environmental justice for Native Americans and their rivers.

KEYWORDS: Native American Tribes, dam removal, Indigeneity, restorative environmental justice, political ecology