Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



This dissertation focuses on the indigneous geography of the Missouri River Valley of the Dakotas. Since Lewis and Clark's expedition in 1804, this landscape has been transformed by two externally introduced components, reservations and reservoirs. To move the native tribes out of the way of an expanding American empire in the mid-19th century, the U.S. Government confined the tribes to territories, then to reservations, which grew smaller as each new wave of Euro-American immigration launched more land-taking by the federal government. To ensure military and political control over the tribes, the U.S. government supported the efforts of hide hunters to annihilate the immense bison herds and implemented a policy of forced assimilation. The 1887 General Allotment Act directly attacked Indian tribalism and freed up thousands of acres on the remaining reservations for white ownership. The most severe physical impacts to the bottomlands came in the mid-twentieth century with the construction of the Pick-Sloan reservoirs which inundated the fertile river bottomlands and destroyed what had been an "oasis" on the Plains for thousands of years. Human impacts to the Three Affiliated Tribes and to the Sioux have been severe and long-lasting; resulting in "trans-generational trauma." Erosion created by the reservoirs has destroyed numerous archaeological sites and comprises a costly management problem for the Corps of Engineers. Indian cultural resurgence began with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 which finally put an end to the hated policies of allotment and assimilation and recognized native tribes as internal sovereign nations. With a renewed spirit of tribalism the Sious and the Three Affiliated Tribes have won important legal victories in federal courts to gain just compensation for the loss of the bottomlands. Prolonged drought and economic recession have caused a major demographic shift on the Plains (white depopulation) which has created many new "frontier counties" with fewer than six people per square mile. Native American have embraced a scaled-down version of the "buffalo commons," which appears better suited to the semi-arid grassland ecosystem. A post-modern frontier landscape is emerging on the Northern Plains with many biogeographic features of the aboriginal landscape.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Kent Mathewson