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The Historiography of Three Similar Books on Water Rights
by Claywoman   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

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Comparing three books written in three styles, explaining differing answers to basically the same problem...

Lawson, Michael L. Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944-1980 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1982). Laurie Weinstein. Native Peoples of the Southwest: Negotiating Land, Water, and Ethnicities (West Port, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey 2001). Shurts, John. Indian Reserved Water Rights: The Winters Doctrine in its Social and Legal Context, 1880-1930s. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 2000).

These three books hold the key to water rights on Indian lands. Each of the authors writes from the prospective of the uniqueness of each situation. The Book, Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944-1980, written in defense of the Indians and shows throughout the book the unfairness of communities and the government when profits and property down stream from tribes are hurt from natural disasters. It also shows how poorer tribes have few resources to fight big government. The second book, Natives Peoples of the Southwest: Negotiating Land, Water, and Ethnicities, edited by Laurie Weinstein is a collection of essays that flow from pre-contact to almost present day and how Indians can be beneficial to the land and how if people work together, they can overcome obstacles to have enough water for all. The third book by John Shurts, Indian Reserved Water Rights: The Winters Doctrine in its Social and Legal Context, 1880-1930, shows how some tribes knew their rights better then others and had government agencies working on their behalf.
All three books are unique because they seem to show the best and the worst treatment of the Indians, each writer or editor brought to these books the feeling of being caught up into the power plays. One of the questions brought to mind in the book, Dammed Indians was why since the Winters Doctrine was decided in favor of Indian water rights, was it not used in various court cases, since the Winters decision favored the Indian even with no stated water rights. Then this reader found one, small passage in this book concerning this issue, and how the governmental agencies that wanted this series of dams built used the doctrine to move the Indians away from the water sources. More will be said of this problem, later in this essay.

The purpose of this essay is not to argue the points in these books but rather to show how each of the styles of writing differ. Do the works show any sort of prejudice one way or the other. Was the evidence gathered one sided and bias on the part of each of the writers? Do you think each writer was honest in his/her research or did he/she try to slant his or her book to his/her way of thinking? Did the writers use appropriate references and did they use them well? Are the books interesting to read or do they read like dissertations? Do they show evidence of their statements? These and other questions will be answered in this paper.
Right from the opening pages of Dammed Indians, you can feel anger and frustration on behalf of the Indians in the tone that Michael L. Lawson uses to write this book. In the preface, Lawson states,

“The Pick-Sloan Plan, the joint water development program developed by the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation in 1944 for the Missouri River Basin, caused more damage to Indian lands than any other public works project in America.” (xxi)

That seems to be his thesis and he proves it well taking the reader from the inception of the project, how many changes occurred and how the Indians were not a factor until everything was decided. Lawson uses many sources for his research in this area: government documents, committee minutes, Federal Power Commission reports, newspapers, and various books on the subject.
Although strongly written in favor of the Indians, Lawson does attempt to tell the other side of the story also. He tells why the politicians in that era felt this water project needed to go through and the Missouri River dammed in so many places. What Lawson also points out is the tribal entities were not considered important enough to be consulted until it was time to implement the plans. This is where the small paragraph is placed about the Winters Doctrine was even mentioned on page 45-46. Although the Fort Belknap Indians of Montana won their case of Winters v. United States in 1907, somehow the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Reclamation used this statute to move the Indians off their fertile bottom lands onto dry, arid lands unsuitable for farming for lack of water.

Lawson shows at this period of time there was little cooperation between tribes, tribes alone had little advantage, but if they could band together, they might have forestalled this action. Comparing Lawson’s with the book on the Winters Doctrine and you see the difference immediately. Shurts shows in a book how the government actually worked for Indian rights to water usage rather then against them. The government sued a group of settlers above the tribes because they dammed the river and thus, dried up the only source of water. The Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Government’s argument that although water rights are not stated in a treaty, the assumption is there that water usage is the Indian right above others. Shurts writes his book with more optimism then Lawson because there was more cause for optimism. Shurts also uses his references well; he builds a case step by step towards his goal of showing what can be right for those looking out for their best interests. In Lawson’s book, very few looked out for the interests of the Indians.
Shurts divides his book into two parts, with the first on the decision itself, as stated by the author,

“The book first examines the course of the Winters litigation itself, placing that litigation in its legal context, in the local context of water development efforts and ideas in the Milk River valley just after the turn of the century, and in the broader national context of Indian and water policy at the same time.”(4)

In the second part of the book, he shows how this decision affected water rights and how the tools of the decision colored many projects in the coming decades. This is a much calmer written book; it seems not to have any anger or prejudice against anyone in the writing of it. The bulk of the book dealt with the decision itself and why this case was brought to trial. It shows how this decision should affect other water rights problems and should be used to argue other cases more effectively in the future.

The third book chosen here is edited by Laurie Weinstein titled Native Peoples of the Southwest: Negotiating Land, Water, and Ethnicities. It is collection of essays pertaining to primarily the Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. Each of the essays builds upon the one before and the purpose is to show an overview of how adaptive first the Indians then the Spanish and finally, the Anglos were in land management. It also highlights water and land management from Paleo times to the present. It is interesting how Laurie Weinstein found just the right essays to compliment each of the others. She wrote a timeline spanning 9500-6000 B.C. to 1992. As you read the book you find yourself often referencing the timeline. Her purpose in editing and producing this book is stated in her introduction:

“one of the most unifying themes of this whole region is the search for water. Water was an issue to the prehistoric Indians. Pueblo Indians developed both a rich mythology and a ceremonial cycle in order to bring rain clouds. Hispanos established acequia communities and codified a whole series of legislation so that they could preserve and protect water rights. Anglos fought Indians and Hispanos over water by using their own legal traditions: litigation still continues unabated today. Who owns the water? Who has the right to use it?” (2)

Weinstein weaves what is known with what is surmised through various archeology digs and gives plenty of evidence to show the assumptions. This book is rich in knowledge and rich in pictures. There are drawings of the land masses that give the reader a way to not only read what the various levels of water and crop growth, but it also shows you what the author of the essay was conveying with his words, which makes the whole book a real joy to read.

Weinstein pulled the book together using different time periods and starts it with Prehistory, taking readers through the Paleo Indian trials at the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age when “Paleo Indians developed highly mobile hunting and gathering subsistence strategies.” (2) Then into the Archaic culture and their tools, local plants used for survival and started to settle down and then leads us into the Uto-Aztecan language groups including Hop, Piman, and Tohono O’odham. Archeologist found evidence of irrigation systems in Arizona precede Hohokam culture showing crops were raised during this time. Weinstein weaves into this section, testimonies of tribal elders of two different areas of the same tribe, one village doing well while the other is not.

The next section of the book concerns the Spanish who looked on the land not as a place to settle and raise crops, but to search for gold and other riches. Conversion of the Indians was also the goal of the Spanish but the Indians protested and revolted against the Spanish rule and actually forced them out of the area. They did finally allow them back in, but on their terms, which combined Catholicism with traditional beliefs.

Then Weinstein focuses on the Anglo invasion and the fight over water rights starts in earnest. The Anglos fought the Spanish and received title to the lands after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which gave the Southwestern areas to the United States. Then the settlers entered this territory and tried to take over all the water leaving the Indians without any if they could. These chapters show that although there is still animosity, and there is still litigation going on concerning sacred places, there is also cooperation in this land where every drop of water is precious.

This book also talks about the environmental changes to this area from prehistory to the present. The last section talks about Sacred geographies and why the Indians want as many of their sacred areas saved as possible. Many sacred spots are destroyed every year, every month, almost everyday all over the United States, but as the essayist tells us, Indians are banding together to fight this practice.

This book includes essays by two Indians, the first one is Angelo Joaquin, Jr. At the writing of this essay he was the “Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH a nonprofit organization organized in 1983.” (82) The purpose of this organization was to bring back the farming practices and crops once traditionally raised on the land. He talks about being a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Southern Arizona. He talks about ‘seeding,’ not just the ground but of new ideas and traditions. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a tribal way back to the old days when certain types of crops were raised there and no place else. Tribal elders gathered ‘wild’ versions of them and now they are reintroducing them into their culture to show the young how they once lived. By raising these crops, they are again touching their heritage and getting back to who they are. The tribe is also tackling the problems of this era for the Indians, diabetes, alcoholism and other addictions, to try to bring stability to the young and get them interested in life in general.

The second essay, The Akimel O’othom: Pima People by Nathan Allen talks about contact with the Spanish and what it meant to his people. He speaks of the forcing of his people to convert to Catholicism and the battle that forced the Spanish to retreat. He talks about the old times and how his people survived and how it was once the Anglos discovered gold in California. He talks about water rights for both the Indian and the Americans and dams built on their reservation. Water rights spelled the difference between farming and starving. He tells the story of the harnessing of the river with the Coolidge Dam and how it has only been full twice in his memory, he remembers drought because water was limited to the farmers because of this. It has changed his tribe and not for the better and then he speaks of another project that will limit the water even further.

Both of these essays seem to be the focus of the book, Weinstein weaves these testimonies into the book in a gentle way so you don’t feel overwhelmed by facts and figures, these two essays show the impact of what the rest of the learned essayists talk about on two cultures with differing results, both impact the reader and brings the real world into focus. This book is also the bridge between the other two books.

The first book shows what happens when people want flood control even if it means it leaves a culture with little or no water to grow their crops, thus, it makes the area and the Indians dependent on the government handouts because there is nothing on the land to bring in any type of industry and without water, none would want to build there. Borrowing again from a previous book review, Larson’s conclusion is powerful. He has taken the reader from the very beginning and showed how the Indians were forced off profitable lands and placed on non-fertile lands with little water without giving them access to water to try to farm. The lands they are left with is land far from industrial growth, if industry did want to locate there, there is no water with which they could utilize to support any kind of industry. He shows how the courts ignored what is fair for all and pandered to the rich farmers and cities over the welfare of the Indian. The bureaucracy broke down and let the Indians down also. The purpose of this book is to show how projects of this magnitude impact not only people, but the ecology of an area and the animals that once lived there. Indians today are not as easily overrun as they were in early 1940s, with communications the way they are, this probably could not happen now, Indians would not sign away their water rights, the Indians know the importance of water and fishing rights. Hopefully, Indians have learned from this lesson and it won’t be repeated again. The differences between the first and the second book are massive.

Since the second book looks at a different tribe during a different time, it is interesting to contrast the first with the second book, for as stated before, the times were different, the theme of the second books shows the feelings of that era when people were aghast at some of the atrocities committed against the Indians. The focus of Dammed Indians is during a period of upheaval for both the Indians and the country. The country was coming out of the Great Depression and entering a war. Indian needs were not a priority and the book shows it. The third book shows although not everyone in favor of tribal or Indian rights, and that everyone can work together to survive on a hostile land with cooperation.

This was an interesting journey through history of a people different, and yet, working for the same goals, survival. It shows the resilience of a people pushed to the edge of extinction and yet they still survive on lands given as a token.

Reader Reviews for "The Historiography of Three Similar Books on Water Rights"

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Reviewed by Janet Caldwell
Ditto to Liz's comment. The American Gov. makes me wanna puke. Hugs to you my Sister.

Peace, Janet xoxoxo
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
well done article, claywoman; outstanding write!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in tx., karen lynn. :( >tears <
Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor (Reader)
People are still aghast at what has and is still happening to Native Americans, and therein gives you the soverignty. They were here first; this is their land.

This is a well researched article and the subject will always be timely to those living in the south or southwest. Indians have been screwed royally at every jucture by the US government. The US government has not honored one single treaty with them. What is refreshing is to see Native American lawyers continuing to seek redress for centuries of injustice by keeping some of this injustuce before the courts.

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