Unlikely Alliances

Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands

Zoltán Grossman
Foreword by Winona LaDuke

  • Published: June 2017
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 392 pp., 27 illus., 11 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Indigenous Confluences
  • Contents

Often when Native nations assert their treaty rights and sovereignty, they are confronted with a backlash from their neighbors, who are fearful of losing control of the natural resources. Yet, when both groups are faced with an outside threat to their common environment-such as mines, dams, or an oil pipeline-these communities have unexpectedly joined together to protect the resources. Some regions of the United States with the most intense conflicts were transformed into areas with the deepest cooperation between tribes and local farmers, ranchers, and fishers to defend sacred land and water.

Unlikely Alliances explores this evolution from conflict to cooperation through place-based case studies in the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin, Northern Plains, and Great Lakes regions during the 1970s through the 2010s. These case studies suggest that a deep love of place can begin to overcome even the bitterest divides.
Zoltán Grossman is professor of geography and Native studies at The Evergreen State College. He is a longtime community organizer and coeditor of Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis. Find out more at

"A broadly comparative work that will be helpful for identifying approaches that lead to workable alliances between neighbors, and for highlighting recent successful Native strategies to assert control over significant natural resources."
-Lisa Blee, author of Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice

"Unlikely Alliances offers a prescription about how cooperation between rural Native and non-Native communities and environmental organizers can be extended and encouraged. It is intended as a roadmap for the future, based on past experience."
-David Rich Lewis, author of Neither Wolf nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change

"Tribal nations' fight for treaty rights has always been on the frontlines. We will build bridges with our neighbors to find common ground, but cannot compromise our future. As place-based societies, we can no longer allow business as usual."
-Brian Cladoosby (Speepots), Chairman, Swinomish Tribe

"Unlikely Alliances demonstrates that our ongoing fights for climate justice are not isolated struggles, but are founded upon a legacy of collaborative resistance. This book is an essential read for all organizers, water protectors, and land defenders who wish to build healthier, more sustainable communities and native nations."
-Dallas Goldtooth, national organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network

"When Indigenous peoples united with ranchers and farmers to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, they blazed an electrifying new path away from climate catastrophe. Such alliances to defend land and water have been taking shape for decades - and they have much more to teach us. Grossman draws out the key lessons from these stories with great skill and care."
-Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine


Part One Running Upstream
1. Fish Wars and Co-Management: Western Washington
2. Water Wars and Breaching Dams: Northwest Plateau

Part Two Militarizing Lands and Skies
3. Military Projects and Environmental Racism: Nevada and Southern Wisconsin

Part Three Keeping It in the Ground
4. Resource Wars and Sharing Sacred Lands: Montana and South Dakota
5. Fossil Fuel Shipping and Blocking: Northern Plains and Pacific Northwest

Part Four Agreeing on the Water
6. Fishing and Exclusion: Northern Wisconsin
7. Mining and Inclusion: Northern Wisconsin


"This text offers itself as a pragmatic guide, and, as such, its ideology tends to privilege finding immediate solutions for the crises it addresses. This immediacy is fitting, of course. Ecological threats aren't the kind of thing that can wait to be resolved. Unlikely Alliances is also, ultimately, a hopeful text, one that celebrates a kind of progress in these alliances."
-John Gamber, Transmotion

"The most valuable contribution of Grossman's detailed study is that it provides a useful guide for building alliances against environmentally destructive projects and evaluating what strategies have been successful, and which ones have not worked so well, in defending rural land, resources and cultures."
-Al Gedicks, Race and Class