Publication Date

January 2020


First Prize

Class Year





Ned Blackhawk


This essay interrogates the comparative effects of railroad colonialism at the White Earth and Red Lake Ojibwe Reservations in northwestern Minnesota. Charting the history of railroad expansion in Minnesota from the mid nineteenth to early twentieth centuries using maps, railroad promotional materials, and Indian agent correspondence reveals how, when, and why the White Earth and Red Lake Ojibwe experienced land dispossession and environmental degradation. Despite their geographic proximity, White Earth and Red Lake faced different federal policies. Nevertheless, by the early twentieth century, both the White Earth and Red Lake Ojibwe lived upon deforested reservation lands. While existing historiography analyzes White Earth and Red Lake (primarily) in isolation, this paper exposes how railroad colonialism links the histories of both reservations. This essay seeks to illustrate the benefits of analyzing Ojibwe history through the lens of railroad colonialism to convey a unified narrative of Ojibwe dispossession that transcends reservation borders.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access