Taking Back Power: Tribes Vie For Control Of Hydro Dams
Aug. 16, 2013 | Northwest News Network
The Northwest hydropower system is full of dams that were built over the strenuous objections of the region’s native tribes. Now, two of these old projects are changing ownership — one in Western Montana and another in Oregon. And the tribes that were once powerless to stop them are becoming the new managers.
The Kerr Dam went up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1930s. It’s north of Missoula. Homesteaders and farmers used it for irrigation and it still generates electricity to this day.
Jordan Thompson stands before the massive “U” shaped structure. He’s a lawyer for the energy company formed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. He says these tribes consider the ground the dam rests on sacred.
“When the dam was being built, the tribes really resisted,” Thompson says. “They were really trying not to have that dam built. But at that time they really didn’t have a tribal government that the United States could sit down with and actually negotiate with.”
He says now the tribes are stronger financially and politically. And since the dam is on tribal trust land, the Salish and Kootenai are vying to take over the federal license when it gets renewed in 2015.
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