Breaking the Iron Bonds

Indian Control of Energy Development

Marjane Ambler

It is, perhaps, not well known that Indian people own about one-third of the country's western coal and uranium resources, as well as vast quantities of oil and natural gas. In the early 1960s, lurid news accounts about the Black Mesa strip mine in Arizona and the manipulation of the Navajos and Hopis shocked the American public, Indian and non-Indian alike. The mine became a symbol of the exploitation of Indian people and Indian resources to satisfy the nation's energy demands. In this book, Marjane Ambler explores the strides that both tribes and individual Indian mineral owners have made since that time, gaining crucial control over oil, gas, coal, and uranium development on their lands.

Breaking the Iron Bonds focuses on the quiet revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. It traces the steps taken—both forward and backward—as tribes and individual Indian mineral owners asserted control over energy development, from monetary returns and water rights to off-reservation development and environmental regulations. In a final chapter, the author describes how some tribes have taken over some wells completely or joined with corporate partners to direct development. Ms. Ambler, who has covered these issues for fifteen years as a journalist, offers firsthand accounts, numerous interviews with major players, and lively descriptions of the heroics of some Indian leaders.

“An exhaustive and seminal study of a pivotal epoch in contemporary Indian history. Skillfully, Ambler describes patterns of corporate exploitation, BIA indifference, fickle federal policies, perennial congressional investigations, and development of energy resources for tribes. This book will endure as a major reference on the legal evolution of tribal control over natural resources.—”

Western Historical Quarterly

“An important addition to the growing literature on Indian self-rule.”

Montana, the Magazine of Western History
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Much of the writing about American Indian issues has focused on either policies adopted by federal government or on the results of those policies on a single reservation. By contrast, this book shows the effects of tribal and federal energy policies on fifteen western reservations and untangles the complicated legal and technical issues.

About the Author

Marjane Ambler, a freelance writer living in Yellowstone National Park, has been covering Indian energy and water issues since 1974, when she began working for the High Country News. She has received grants and awards from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the Native American Press Association, and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Her work has also been recognized by the Wyoming Council for the Humanities.

Additional Titles in the Development of Western Resources Series