Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Rand, Jacki Thompson

First Committee Member

Priest, R. Tyler

Second Committee Member

Giblin, James L.

Third Committee Member

Prussing, Erica

Fourth Committee Member

Brooks, James F.


What is the relationship between environment and tribal sovereignty, and what is the value of tribally-controlled land in the twenty-first century? This dissertation turns to the Meskwaki Nation, the only resident Native American community in Iowa, to provide a long-term perspective on the benefits and pitfalls of tribal land reclamation. Rather than focusing on dispossession, it emphasizes how one tribe reacquired its land base following removal. In the process, it shows how environment and sovereignty are sources of political and economic leverage for Native communities. They are useful categories for organizing Native histories and understanding how environmental, political, and economic interactions have shaped and been shaped by Indigenous struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

This work examines how the unique status of the Meskwaki “settlement,” which is not a “reservation” because the tribe purchased it with tribal money in 1857, has expanded the tribe’s capacity for self-determination. The Meskwaki story confirms that increasing tribal land holdings—as well as tribal control over them—provides an anchor from which tribes can maintain their sovereignty, creates opportunities for self-determination, and offers tribes political and economic leverage. But land reclamation is not a silver bullet that can solve the many problems faced by Native Nations today.

Rather, tribal land (and by extension, the environments on it) is a political tool that can be deployed in defense of tribal sovereignty. By recognizing the potential of tribally-controlled land to create leverage within the paradigms of state/tribal and federal/tribal politics, tribes can utilize their land bases as sovereign, political territory and pursue economic and political strategies that can empower their continuing recovery from the processes of colonization.


Environment, Land Tenure, Meskwaki, Midwest, Native American, Tribal Sovereignty


xix, 355 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 319-355).


Copyright © 2016 Eric Steven Zimmer

Available for download on Friday, July 03, 2020

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