Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Dr. Robin Saha

Commitee Members

Dr. Daniel Spencer, Dr. Laurie Yung


Settler Colonialism, White Fragility, Colorblind Racism, National Bison Range, Decolonization


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Critical and Cultural Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology


Since the Tribal Self Governance Act was passed in 1994, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) in western Montana have sought increased management responsibilities at the National Bison Range, which is fully encompassed by the Flathead Indian Reservation. Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has managed the Bison Range since it was established in 1908, the Tribes assert that they were the original stewards of bison in the area, and have requested both the reinstatement of the National Bison Range to Tribal trust ownership and increased management responsibilities through negotiated Annual Funding Agreements with the Department of Interior. In their negotiations, however, the CSKT and their advocates are met with ongoing local and national opposition that has been characterized by the Montana Human Rights Network as anti-Indian racist. Using literature on settler colonialism theory and concepts from critical whiteness studies like white fragility and colorblind racism, this research examines how and the degree to which present-day opposition to increased Tribal management perpetuates a settler colonialist project at the National Bison Range. Additionally, this work explores the nature of the claims opponents make and articulates how settler colonialism is a form of structural racism. Through a qualitative analysis of 68 public comments and the transcripts of 17 in-depth interviews, this study finds that opponents of increased Tribal management furthers a settler colonialist project at the National Bison Range through racialized settler discourse that exhibits white fragility and colorblind racism. That the CSKT continue to reject their own erasure, however, prevents the completion of the settler colonialist project. Finally, this work suggests that future research might continue to link settler colonialism with concepts like white fragility and colorblind racism to better describe settler colonialism as a project of white supremacy, particularly for natural resource management issues in the United States.



© Copyright 2019 Brittany Lee Palmer