Native Sun News: Indian author a part of South Dakota book fest

The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Red Lodge, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

Michael Lawson

Cook-Lynn, Lawson featured at this year’s Festival of Books
‘From the River’s Edge’ has connection to ‘Dammed Indians’
By Evelyn Red Lodge
Native Sun News Correspondent

RAPID CITY — Thousands of people are expected to visit the upcoming 10th annual Festival of Books in downtown Sioux Falls.

The festival features this year’s Book One selection, “Dammed Indians Revisited: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux” by Michael Lawson.

According to the festival’s website,, more than 40 authors will be on hand to make presentations and offer book signings Sept. 28-30.

What is more, most of the 50 festival events over the three jam-packed days are free, but people are asked to register on the website. The site also states the festival includes events for children and teenagers.

Lawson’s book describes how “In 1944, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation created the Pick-Sloan Plan for multi-purpose water development in the Missouri River Basin. This plan caused more damage to American Indian lands and resources than any other public works project in America,” according to

Local Hunkpati Dakota, or Crow Creek Sioux, scholar and author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn sat down with Native Sun News to talk about Lawson’s book and its connection to her book, “From the River’s Edge,” which will also be featured at the Festival of Books.

“‘Dammed Indians Revisited’ is a non-fiction story of the flooding of the Missouri River with six hydropower dams in the 1950s and 1960s. Actually, it started in 1930 with (the) Flood Control Act,” Cook-Lynn, author of 12 books, said.

“My book, ‘From the Rivers Edge,’ is the only nonfiction book written about this event. It was originally published in 1991 by Arcade Publishing in New York. It has been out of print. Living Justice Press published 1,000 copies of it last month only for the Festival of Books.

“It’s not my story. It’s about the restructuring of the Missouri River,” she continued.

“This event has been called by environmentalists one of the worst environmental disasters of the 20th century. “I think I grew up knowing that. I remember going home from college in the ’50s to visit my dad. We went out to find a root for his toothache, and none was found. What I wanted to tell about it (the damming) is it destroyed plants and animals, medicine. The whole fluvial landscape is gone – to say nothing of the towns.”

Cook-Lynn explained that whole economies are now gone. Ranching land and towns are now under water; 550 square miles of treaty-protected land were destroyed, including Fort Thompson, which is the hub where her story takes place.

As for Lawson’s book, she further explained, he “talks about all of the tribes and researched all of what happened to them all, from North Dakota to Iowa. It’s a well-researched book.

“I think what it reveals (as) the history for white people is progress. The history for Indians, it’s pretty much a catastrophe. I hope everyone reads it because it’s a continuing history.”

As for her own book, Cook-Lynn said, “My story certainly tells what a catastrophe it was, and we still haven’t gotten over it.

“When I was growing up there were a lot of Indian ranchers. My dad was a successful rancher, so I wrote this story in honor of him and all those ranchers and rodeo riders,” she noted.

“It was the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Corps of Engineers that uprooted Indian families as though they weren’t important.

“It’s probably the most significant ecological disaster in our part of the country, as scholars have said.

“If you ask how all of this happens,” Cook-Lynn continued, “well it happens by law. Laws are made all the time to divest Indians of their resources. If you want to know why Indians are the poorest in the country, look at the laws that are passed.

“Nothing will compensate Indians for the loss of treaty land, but Lawson’s book talks about compensation for dam destruction on the Missouri.

“After the Columbia (River), which comes out of Canada flowing to the northwest, the Missouri is the biggest river in the west, and it is treated with great contempt – just like Indians. The whole environment that we are involved with is treated this way by these people.”

(Contact Evelyn Red Lodge at

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