Indians and energy: Public symposium on history, economics, politics and culture in the Four Corners

Norman Rockwell's painting, Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam
by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Oil on canvas, 51″ x 77″
Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River Storage Project, northern Arizona. Image courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Southern Methodist University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies will host a high-powered symposium in April, “Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest.”

The symposium is set for Saturday, April 12, 2008, at McCord Auditorium in SMU’s Dallas Hall, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Teachers and community college professors may earn up to 7 hours CEU credits. Registration is available on-line. The $20.00 fee includes a luncheon; conference-only registration is an amazingly inexpensive $5.00.

Conference organizers are looking at a second wave of energy resource development in the Four Corners region, especially, following on earlier development of uranium ore extraction, and coal-fired power generation.

The symposium and the resulting book of essays will provide an historical context for energy development on Native American lands and put forth ideas that may guide future public policy formation. Collectively, the presentations will make the case that the American Southwest is particularly well-suited for exploring how people have transformed the region’s resources into fuel supplies for human consumption. Not only do Native Americans possess a large percentage of the region’s total acreage, but on their lands reside much of the nation’s oil, coal, and uranium resources. Regional weather patterns have also enabled native people to take advantage of solar and wind power as effective sources of energy. Although presentations will document histories of resource extraction and energy development as episodes of exploitation, paternalism, and dependency, others will show how energy development in particular has enabled many Indians to break from these patterns and facilitated their social, economic, and political empowerment.

My second job out of high school, and through much of my undergraduate days, took me to Farmington, New Mexico, and far around the area for the Air Pollution Laboratory at the University of Utah’s Engineering Experiment Station, to measure air quality and effects of air pollution resulting from the Four Corners Power Plant, as the San Juan Generating Station was under construction.

I’m planning to attend the symposium.

Especially after last Saturday’s sessions for history teachers at SMU (the Stanton Sharp Symposium), I highly recommend these programs for their ability to charge up high school teachers to better classroom work. This is history, and economics, at its best, looking to improve public policy and help people.

Planned presentations are listed below the fold, copying the information from the website for the symposium.

Participants will include:

l Introduction. Sherry L. Smith, Southern Methodist University & Associate Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies and Brian Frehner, Oklahoma State University and former Clements Center Fellow, co-editors.

l Understanding the Earth and the Demands on Energy Tribes. Donald Fixico, Arizona State University.

l Oil, Indians, and Angie Debo: Politics, History, and Energy Development of Native American Lands. Brian Frehner, Oklahoma State University and former Clements Center Fellow.

l A Piece of the Action’: Navajo Leadership, Energy Development, and Decolonization. Andrew Needham, New York University and former Clements Center Fellow.

l Power to the Indians: The Production and Use of Electricity on Arizona’s Reservations. Leah Glaser, Central Connecticut State University.

l Indigenous Peoples, Large Dams, and Capital Intensive Energy Development: A River Basin Analysis of the American Arid Southwest and the Not-So-Arid Pacific Northwest. Benedict J. Colombi, American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

l The Evolution of Federal Energy Policy for Tribal Lands. Garrit Voggesser, Manager of Tribal Lands Conservation Program, National Wildlife Federation.

l The Desert Rock Controversy and Questions about Renewable Sources of Energy. Dana Powell, Ph.D. Candidate, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

l Jobs and Sovereignty: American Indian Workers and Industrial Development in the Twentieth Century. Colleen O’Neill, Utah State University and former Clements Center Fellow.

l Reflections/Commentary. Rebecca Tsosie, Arizona State University.

Symposium organizers are:

Sherry Smith
, Professor of History, Southern Methodist University and Associate Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies
Brian Frehner, Assistant Professor of History, Oklahoma State University and former Clements Center Fellow.
James F. Brooks, Director of the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe

Co-sponsored by the School for Advanced Research, Santa Feand the Clements Center for Southwest Studies.

5 Responses to Indians and energy: Public symposium on history, economics, politics and culture in the Four Corners

  1. […] Indians and energy:… on Stanton Sharp history teaching… […]


  2. […] Last spring SMU’s history department sponsored a colloquium on a power generation in the southwest, specifically with regard to coal and uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation.   We’ve been there before. […]


  3. […] heats up A dozen scholars from a half dozen universities presented papers at SMU Saturday, at a symposium titled “Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest… Papers detailed the history, economics, cultural and social effects of the development of energy […]


  4. This looks good, too bad I won’t be able to attend. Perhaps you will post hightlights. I presented last year on several ways that tribes are taking control of their own energy resources, from the Apach in northern New Mexico to tribes in the Dakotas and beyond. The oil and natural gas boom has been very important to many tribes as this is the first energy boom that they have had enough money to actually take control of the wells and extraction process on their own. There are now several Native American energy companies out there.


  5. mpb says:

    It’s about time this was discussed and I hope it is comprehensive (judging by the program it is. Except that someone from CERT Council of Energy resource Tribes should perhaps participate.) Energy has been very important to many tribal economies.

    Energy extraction has also been a problem– I was part of the first tribal Superfund program which was initiated in part for the uranium mining debris. Later, as head of environmental programs in a northern NM tribal consortium, we tried to persuade the Dept of Energy and Los Alamos Lab to form a new working relationship with tribes and energy/environmental research. DOE was/is in a scientific cultural rut and the nation is still behind in energy, water, and security.

    One thing to note on the side, is that energy isn’t the only resource; water is even more important economically for everyone.

    It is a welcome surprise to see someone from SAR is participating. The school is under a new director and perhaps a new integration of anthropology.

    Jeepers, I wish I could go. Take good notes, EdD.


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