A thoughtful view of momentous events in a forgotten corner of America.
Wyoming is a place where pronghorn antelope outnumber people, and where boom-and-bust economic cycles have resulted in a mostly transient population. Many of those who stay are Indians, and they do so because they have nowhere else to go, writes journalist O’Gara (Long Road Home, not reviewed). While a romantic notion has it that Native Americans “are connected to the land in some sacred sense forever inaccessible to non-Indians,” the fact is that “as an Indian you’re part of a community interminably grounded in a place,” no matter how depressed and depressing that place might be. Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, the homeland of the Arapaho and Shoshone peoples, has seen hard times; like most other reservations, it’s poor and undeveloped, with little promise for its inhabitants. But unlike many reservations, it has inspired a genuine resistance movement, one that involves Native Americans’ taking full control of resources promised to them by treaty long ago and then, of course, taken away. In semiarid Wyoming, the most important of those resources is water, always a controversial and confusing subject in the history of the American West. O’Gara does not entirely steer clear of confusion himself; as he notes, covering Indian issues is difficult because tribal governments are usually closed to the press, and “because Indians have found invisibility a useful survival tool since the conquest,” making the facts sometimes hard to come by. And he certainly doesn’t shy away from controversy, as he carefully tracks the legal path from state benches to the US Supreme Court that the Wind River Reservation’s inhabitants have had to follow to secure rights to rivers that have been under the control of white farmers and ranchers for generations—and that those farmers and ranchers do not want to surrender.
O’Gara’s excellent study will be of interest to anyone concerned with Indian law, and with Native American issues generally.