Unjust Compensation: Grand Coulee Dam, Indian Claims, and the Colville Nation

Holly Sprague, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Thesis/Project Completion Date

May, 2011

Committee Chair

Kathleen A. Brown-Perez, UMass Amherst - Commonwealth Honors College

Additional Committee Member(s)

Chantal Norrgard, Mount Holyoke College - Mount Holyoke College History Department


This paper explores the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation's incalculable losses incurred from the U.S. government through the development of Grand Coulee Dam in the Columbia Basin. In 1933, the federal government began construction of the Dam without consent of the Colville Tribes. By 1942, construction of Grand Coulee Dam was complete, leaving 21,00 acres of land flooded. The bulk of inundated land consisted of premier hunting, agricultural, and fishing territory for the Colville Tribes. The Colville Confederated Tribes filed a lawsuit in 1951 against the United States utilizing the Indian Claims Commission "fair and honorable dealings" clause to seek just compensation for Grand Coulee Dam's violation of protected land and water rights. Exploring the implications of this case, I argue that the just compensation clause of the U.S. Constitution is inadequate in dealing with the infringement of culture, heritage, and political autonomy denied to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Moreover, I demonstrate that just compensation is centered on the exercise of power over Indian lands for federal use, rather than the actual losses suffered by Indians.


Recommended Citation

Sprague, Holly, "Unjust Compensation: Grand Coulee Dam, Indian Claims, and the Colville Nation" (2011). Commonwealth Honors College Theses and Projects. Paper 11.