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AIS 308 A: American Indians and the Environment

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
Joshua L. Reid
Joshua L. Reid

Syllabus Description:

Makah Couple Fishing, 1900.jpgLeft: Makah couple haul canoe ashore after fishing, Neah Bay, 1900 (Anders B. Wilse, UW Libraries Special Collections).

 American Indians & the


 AIS/ENVIR/HSTAA 308 (Winter 2021)

 Professor Josh Reid


Like Indigenous peoples around the world, American Indians possess a special relationship to their local environments, their homelands. How is this historical relationship to their lands and waters—and to the plants and animals that can be found there—unique? This course examines how this relationship has changed over time as American Indians adapted to altered environments and new conditions, including migrations, involvement with markets of exchange, overhunting, dispossession and settler colonialism, petrochemical development, conservation, mainstream environmentalism, and climate change. How and why has the popular view of American Indians’ relationship to the environment changed? What environmental challenges do today’s American Indian nations face, and what are the historical dimensions of these challenges? Through lectures, readings, and discussions, we will investigate several historical and contemporary case studies that explore these themes.

In this course, students will understand:

  • The diversity of ways that different Indigenous peoples relate to and interact with the environment.
  • How indigenous relationships to the environment have changed over time.
  • How stereotypes of American Indians took shape and how non-Natives have drawn upon these assumptions for their own purposes.
  • How American Indian peoples and nations have engaged changing relationships with the environment to shape their own identities and futures.
  • The continued value of the environment to indigenous peoples today.

In addition to some readings posted online, there are four assigned books for this course:

  • Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
  • Demuth, Bathsheba. Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019.
  • Estes, Nick. Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. London: Verso, 2019.
  • Spence, Mark David. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The complete digital copy of the syllabus is now available.

Catalog Description: 
Examines the historical relationships American Indians have possessed with local environments, with special attention to the ways these peoples have adapted to altered environments and new conditions, including migrations, involvement with markets of exchange, overhunting, dispossession, conservation, and mainstream environmentalism. Offered: jointly with ENVIR 308/HSTAA 308.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 7, 2020 - 9:00pm