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An Association of Necessity: A Railroad and Three Tribes look to the Future.

Authors: Paul Sando*, MN State University at Moorhead
Topics: Economic Geography, Indigenous Peoples, Transportation Geography
Keywords: Native Americans, Railroads, energy, land use, economic geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The initial interactions between railroads and Native Americans were about control of land. It wasn’t until later that railroads began to realize that the tribes were part of their own economic justification. The historic, public face of the railroads was of hectic activity and building. But many Railroads were faced with the economic necessity to justify the existence of the tracks and the routes created. In the northern plains, non-land grant railroads had to create economies as they went to both justify and pay for the routes they would come to create. They did not have the government and the land grants to keep them afloat economically.

One means of justifying the annexation of land from Native Americans was to imply that the people that occupied them would be benefited by having the railroad come through, but did they? Tribes have learned to both live with and without the railroads. In this case, the railroads retains tracks on their reservation, and the tribe must live with them.

This presentation will look at a specific example of an association between a railroad and a group of tribes; The Soo Line Railroad (now Canadian Pacific) and the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. In just over 100 years, they have worked for and against one another, weathered economic uncertainty, and seem to have moved into a new understanding of their need of each other in the face of modern changes like an oil boom.

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