Nick Estes: Flood

CJ Trowbridge


Power and Politics in American Indian History

Response 5

Nick Estes, Our History is the Future (2019), Chapter 4, Flood

After wounded knee, the white imperial ethnostate shifted it’s extermination and displacement strategy from an overtly violent one to a covertly violent one. Legal action and treaty violations took the place of extermination campaigns. Over the course of the next several decades, illegal colonization and land theft became the name of the game for stealing land and exterminating native people. (Estes 120) Also, we can’t forget the countless uninvestigated murders and disappearances of native women which became a norm throughout the continent.

One strategy which was very effective and eliminating native land was to simply build hydroelectric dams downstream with the deliberate intent of flooding reservations. This flooded enormous areas of native land and make it unusable despite it still belonging to the native people under treaties. (120) Many such examples took place under the Pick-Sloan Plan. The author calls the construction of these dams “a twentieth-century indigenous apocalypse.” (121) The author further states that no single act so completely devastated native lands as the construction of these dams. (135) One reason this apocalypse was so catastrophic to native people is the fact that the cultivation of livestock had become a major source of food as well as economic output for the reservations. The army’s decision to build dams and deliberately flood the reservations meant the end of both the food supply and the native agricultural industry. (121)

Another development during this time was Public Law 280 which stole sovereign power from the native people and gave it to local cities and states, in violation of many treaties. This law was thrown out this week by the supreme court, giving control back to the native people at least in some cases. (122) In the unjust interregnum when this law was in force, nearly a million native people were forced off their land by local cities and states through various surreptitious and illegal tactics. (122) This, like the dams, was merely an extension of the centuries-old policy of exterminating and displacing native people in order to replace them with white settler colonists.

The Dawes Act decided to create a system for measuring the blood-purity of native people and allocating different resources and land rights to them on that basis. (123) After centuries of extermination and displacement and white settler colonialism, the argument was that the extant population of native people didn’t count anymore since over a hundred million of them had been killed, and those who were left were no longer pure enough to retain their indigenous identities. This directly led to the theft of another hundred million acres from native reservations. (123)

These new forms of violence came to be collectively known as “slow violence” and form the foundation for the modern era of white aggression and encroachment on native land. (146)


Works Cited

Estes, Nick. Our History Is the Future. Verso Books, 2019.