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Sophomore College 2016: Environmental and Resource Challenges on Native American Lands

In the summer of 2016, 12 Stanford sophomores spent three weeks examining the challenges associated with managing natural resources on Native American lands. Together with Professor Bruce Cain (political science) and Barton “Buzz” Thompson (law), students explored the complexities of governance, land use and cultural resource management on tribal lands in the American West.

Through readings, film screenings, and on-campus guest lectures by Greg Ablavsky (Stanford Law School), David Freyberg (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Arun Majumdar (Precourt Institute for Energy), and Deborah Sivas (Stanford Law School), students developed a broad framework for understanding the historical, cultural and legal issues underpinning tribal resource management.

In mid-September, the class journeyed to Washington and Montana to meet with tribes and governmental leaders to experience these topics firsthand. In Washington, students explored the Puget Sound with field experts in fisheries management. Students met with leaders of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the Lummi tribe, learning how historic tribal fishing rights and treaties have transformed into a powerful environmental tool for tribes seeking to preserve ecosystems and watersheds in the Northwest.

The class then boarded the Empire Builder train, traveling overnight through the Cascades to East Glacier National Park. The class received a warm welcome by leaders of the Blackfeet tribe despite an early September snow. Students were fortunate to visit sacred spaces like Badger2Medicine site and learn more about cultural heritage protection, bison and forestry management, and the economic challenges facing those who live on the reservation.

The field course continued south through Montana, stopping in Polson to meet with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe on Flathead Lake, and visit the Kerr Dam, a tribally-owned hydroelectric facility. Students continued on to Helena, meeting with officials from Governor Bullock’s Office of Indian Affairs and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. En route to Billings, students stopped at Madison State Buffalo Jump and learned about traditional bison hunts and local medicines. Finally, the course concluded with visits to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes, where students discussed the role coal will play in the future of energy and economic sustainability for tribes and toured the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battlefields. 

Read more about Sophomore College at the Bill Lane Center for the American West »