Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Cultural Heritage Option)

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

G.G. Weix

Commitee Members

Doug Macdonald, Dave Beck, George Price


Celilo Falls, The Dalles Dam, The Garrison Dam, Fort Berthold Reservation, Columbia River, Missouri River


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology



Devastation and Displacement: The Destruction of Native Communities as a Result of the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River in North Dakota and the Dams on the Columbia River in Oregon

By Farryl Elisa "Lisa" Hunt

This master's thesis in anthropology is a cross-cultural analysis that explores two intersecting yet distinct discourses of destruction and displacement for two groups of Native people in Oregon and North Dakota. The building of The Dalles Dam in Oregon and The Garrison Dam in North Dakota damaged thriving livelihoods due to the loss of irreplaceable flooded areas.

This thesis will utilize cultural ecology to focus on the bounty of sustenance, cultural viability, and heritage that had existed for two separate places and populations of Native Americans that had thrived for thousands of years before these two dams were built. It compares the two dams' transformative consequences towards the Native people and contrasts their cultural heritage and the uniqueness of the various tribal communities.

The Native people were afflicted by being removed from homelands, destroyed sacred land and water areas, ruined access to plentiful hunting and fishing areas, affected traditional ecological knowledge, and violated promises made in previous treaties. This thesis critiques the United States governmental dam development industry by identifying how the needs of Native Americans are silenced by the lack of concern for harmful effects upon Native peoples’ livelihoods before and after the dam.

The drowning of Celilo Falls by the building of The Dalles Dam is a heartbreaking tale of the loss of culture, land, economic resources, and a sacred way of life for Native people. The Columbia River near Celilo Falls has been home to people now enrolled in The Nez Perce Tribe, The Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation (which consist of the Cayuse and Walla Walla and Umatilla Tribes), and The Confederated Tribes of the Warms Springs Reservation (comprised of Wasco, Paiute, and Warm Springs, Tribes). They had depended on the generous number of salmon provided from this area along the Columbia River for thousands of years. That day in March of 1957, the place, the lifeblood, the economic livelihood, and religious significance for generations of people were lost in an instant.

The creation of the Garrison Dam flooded 90% of the population of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people, causing irreparable destruction. The dam flooded over 150.000 acres and ultimately buried nine reservation communities into what is now known as Lake Sakakawea, harmfully affected the tribal membership, causing devastation since their displacement. The location of the main stem Missouri River dams was deliberately chosen so that the reservoirs would spare white towns and instead flood Native lands.

Unfortunately, greed and misconception still destroy habitats and culture surrounding people in various environments because of dams. Every day, injustices are committed, wearing the mask of necessity and progress in every area worldwide. Moreover, the displacement that has occurred because of dams severs what often strong spiritual and cultural attachments to land and threatens communal bonds and cultural practices which hold these societies together.

These two dams are only two examples of countless others that have negatively impacted Indigenous communities. This thesis, however, focuses specifically on The Dalles Dam and The Garrison Dam because of the dramatic and severe impacts the dams had on these specific Native People. The protesting was important yet dismissed, and the meager compensation that resulted would never replace what was lost. There were ways these events could have been prevented; other areas the dams could have been built. Yet the cries of the people were ignored, and trauma that took place remains, passed on generationally or by the elders remaining who still remember what life was like before the dams.



© Copyright 2021 Farryl Elisa Hunt