Network in Canadian History and Environment Prize for Best Book
Brittany Luby, Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival in Anishinaabe Territory (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.
Brittany Luby’s beautifully written analysis of hydroelectric development impacts on Anishinabeg communities in the Lake of the Woods–Winnipeg River watershed artfully weaves oral testimony and archival research with embodied generational experience of place to deliver an accessible narrative linking environmental transformation and dispossession. Luby contributes to the existing environmental history literature on dams and rivers with a unique analysis focused primarily on water and Indigenous histories of adaptation, cooperation, and resistance in response to medium and small-scale hydro operations. In centering Indigenous responses, Luby demonstrates that the dispossession of water systems and watersheds, in addition to land, is another way colonialism is articulated and activated.
In this rich narrative, Luby reorients readers’ perspectives by starting on the ground and centering Indigenous knowledge systems and stories. Dammed is a community-engaged and decolonizing historical work rooted in place and the author’s personal experiences. In centering the experiences of Dalles 38C First Nation, Luby lends a voice to community members, elders, and relatives and mediates their participation in telling this story.
Luby also challenges the common narrative of universal post-war Canadian prosperity. Rather than concentrating on high modernism, affluence, and progress, she argues that, by viewing the 20th century hydro boom from the “periphery” (geographically and racially), we can see the inequitable distribution of benefits and burdens of energy development. As Luby skillfully follows the story of 20th century hydroelectric development in the Lake of the Woods, she weaves together a diverse array of historical themes: from environment and race to gender and health to energy, justice, and labour. Her examination of women’s health, pre- and post-natal care, and food insecurity makes an important gendered contribution to energy histories, highlighting the ways in which the projects of settler colonialism left legacies on Indigenous bodies, lands, and livelihoods.
Dammed is an important work in Canadian environmental history. Through its deeply engaging and descriptive prose, this book shows that medium to smaller scale dams have profoundly changed relationships among water, land, animals, and human bodies. It will inspire its readers to critically consider water-based colonialism as well as water activism among Indigenous communities across Canada.