Settler Colonial Geographies in the Columbia River Basin

Authors: Carrie Mott*, University of Louisville
Topics: Social Geography, Natural Resources, United States
Keywords: historical geography, Indigenous geographies, settler colonialism, whiteness, rivers, irrigation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This presentation addresses the connections between white supremacist settler colonialism and Columbia River Basin reclamation projects in the United States Pacific Northwest. Through looking at the legislation of historical conflicts over property rights and access to water between Native American groups and white settlers, I show how racialized nation-state processes that began in the 18th and early 19th centuries have shaped access to, and management of, Columbia Basin waterways. There is significant historical evidence that demonstrates clearly the connections between US federal government reclamation projects in the Columbia Basin and the advance of settler colonialism and hegemonic whiteness throughout the region. For example, a number of dams throughout the Columbia Basin were constructed, in part, to control sections of river rapids. However, river rapids have also traditionally been very important salmon fishing sites for Native American groups throughout the region. This presentation will explore the racialized history of agricultural irrigation along the Ahtanum Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River (a tributary of the Columbia River) in Eastern Washington. Ahtanum Creek was designated by an 1859 treaty as one of the boundaries of the Yakama Reservation. However, decades of conflict and legal battles between white settlers on the north side of the creek, and Yakama people on the south side of the creek show that the lack of specificity in the treaty provided multiple avenues for white settlers to divert waters away from Yakama Reservation lands.

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