A critical exploration of how modernity and progress were imposed on the people and land of rural South Dakota
The Rosebud Country, comprising four counties in rural South Dakota, was first established as the Rosebud Indian Reservation in 1889 to settle the Sicangu Lakota. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, white homesteaders arrived in the area and became the majority population. Today, the population of Rosebud Country is nearly evenly divided between Indians and whites.
In Power and Progress on the Prairie, Thomas Biolsi traces how a variety of governmental actors, including public officials, bureaucrats, and experts in civil society, invented and applied ideas about modernity and progress to the people and the land. Through a series of case studies--programs to settle "surplus" Indian lands, to "civilize" the Indians, to "modernize" white farmers, to find strategic sites for nuclear missile silos, and to extend voting rights to Lakota people--Biolsi examines how these various "problems" came into focus for government experts and how remedies were devised and implemented.
Drawing on theories of governmentality derived from Michel Foucault, Biolsi challenges the idea that the problems identified by state agents and the solutions they implemented were inevitable or rational. Rather, through fine-grained analysis of the impact of these programs on both the Lakota and white residents, he reveals that their underlying logic was too often arbitrary and devastating.