Reclaiming Indian waters : dams, irrigation, and Indian water rights in Western Canada, 1858-1930

Kenichi Matsui
Indian water rights regarding irrigation agriculture and the construction o f storage and hydroelectric dams took shape from the 1870s to the 1930s and largely determined economic activities on and near reserves and reservations in Western Canada and the American West respectively. Although historians recently have provided extensive studies of American cases, Indian water rights issues in Western Canada have gained scant attention. The present study focuses on this neglected part of the
more » ... part of the history placing particular emphasis on the interactive roles Native peoples, government officials, agricultural businesses, hydroelectric developers and homesteaders played in "reclaiming" aboriginal landscapes for irrigation and water storage or hydroelectric dam projects. I explore the jurisdictional debates over water rights that these projects generated. Recognizing the importance of inter-provincial and international contexts, the thesis examines the extent to which American reclamation laws and practices influenced Canadian policymakers, bureaucrats, and technocrats. It also focuses particular attention on the development of water laws and policies in British Columbia and Alberta to identify similarities and differences that subsequently affected Native peoples. I accomplish this by providing four case studies. I note that the differences between these two provinces with respect to the development of Indian water rights were particularly significant before 1930. A key reason was that the federal government held title to Crown lands in Alberta until the latter date, whereas British Columbia entered confederation holding that title. My dissertation demonstrates that the idea of Indian water rights emerged in the late-nineteenth-century from political and legal philosophies and practices of colonialism that attempted to transform the "primitive" Native populations into the mold of yeoman farmers. It was also shaped by modifications of the common law that sought to address the needs of industrialists, mine [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0091422 fatcat:jfvzigqa7ngsrgv227xsvwwhma