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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Saving Wild Rice: The Rise and Fall of the Nett Lake Dam

Tsegaye Habte Nega

Environment and History 14(2008): 5-39

This paper examines the interrelations of technology, environment and people by exploring the origin, design and implementation of a dam-building project intended to control water-level fluctuations and enhance the Nett Lake wild rice ecosystem at Bois Forte Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Informed by the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies (STS), it is argued that technologies, such as the dam, do not fail or succeed because they are ill or well conceived. Rather, they acquire these properties depending on whether the boundaries of the technology, user and ecosystem become stable. This implies that even if we can point to the separate entities involved, their boundaries cannot be determined a priori. Instead, they emerge constantly, renegotiated by a complex interplay of heterogeneous elements, including scientific, economic, political, cultural, legal and natural factors.

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