Friday, January 13, 2023

Erika M. Bsumek's "The Foundations of Glen Canyon Dam"

Erika Marie Bsumek is an associate professor of history at UT Austin. She is the author of the award-winning Indian-made: Navajo Culture in the Marketplace, 1848–1940 and the coeditor of Nation States and the Global Environment: New Approaches to International Environmental History.

Bsumek applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Foundations of Glen Canyon Dam: Infrastructures of Dispossession on the Colorado Plateau, and reported the following:
Page 99 picks up part of the story of Eugene C. LaRue, the first engineer to propose placing a dam at Glen Canyon, and his attempts to build a coalition of supporters for a dam at Glen Canyon in 1922. This occurred just as government officials from the upper and lower basin states were about to meet in November of 1922 in Santa Fe to divide up the water of the Colorado River in what became know as the Colorado River Compact.

The history that appears on page 99 is a minor part of the story – but an important one – as it shows how La Rue, like others before and after him, tried get support from Latter Day Saints officials for his plan.

While this is an important part of the overall history covered in the book, someone who only looked at page 99 would not necessarily get a good sense of the my book or the overall argument in it. The larger story the book details how settler colonialism worked on the Colorado Plateau and how Native Americans were dispossessed of their land and water. La Rue was certainly part of the larger settler colonial society – as were the LDS settlers he wanted to support his plan. He used his expertise in engineering to site potential locations for the river’s dams. He used the studies and knowledge of previous generations of scientists, explores, geologists and engineers to make plans for how to deliver vast amounts of water to the white residents of the region. Yet, whereas earlier generations of explorers and scientists worked directly with the area's Indigenous people, La Rue did not seem to consider them at all (except for naming his boat, “The Navajo.”) The actions of Native Americans are detailed more thoroughly in other parts of the book.

Still, La Rue was instrumental in helping to affix one of the key infrastructures of dispossession into place. He helped normalize the idea that the settlers, states, and the federal government could build on Indigenous lands without seeking their consent. In fact, it never even seemed to occur to La Rue that Indigenous people should be included in the regional planning discussions about the allocation of water.
Follow Erika M. Bsumek on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue