|Zoltan Grossman's examples of environmental alliances between Native Americans and non-natives|
Grossman is a geographer who wrote about the relationships between tribes and rural non-Native farmers, ranchers, and fishers in his book Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands. The two were once mostly at odds. "Ever since Native Americans began to reassert their treaty rights to harvest fish, water and other natural resources, starting in the 1960s in the Pacific Northwest, a far-right populist backlash from some rural whites has sparked racial conflicts over those resources," Grossman writes. "But starting in the late 1970s, some Native nations across the country joined with their rural white neighbors — including people who had been their adversaries in treaty conflicts — to block threats to rural lands and waters, such as mining, pipeline, dam, nuclear waste and military projects."
That partnership has shown up this decade in groups such as the Cowboy Indian Alliance, which opposed the Keystone XL oil pipeline. More recently, fishing groups and Native nations in the Pacific Northwest are teaming up to oppose coal and oil export terminals and advocate for restoring fish habitats damaged by development. "The mostly white working-class residents of former logging towns in the area, who have strongly opposed timber industry regulations, have worked more easily with local tribes than with urban environmental groups to protect their local economy from fossil fuels," Grossman reports.
Non-native rural residents have found that sovereign tribal nations can more easily take fights to the federal level in a way that state and local governments can't. And Native Americans may be more motivated to fight because the survival of their cultures depends on winning. "They can’t simply move away from environmental hazards, because they have harvesting rights only within their treaty territory, and their identities and cultures are rooted in a particular place," Grossman reports.