Native Americans and white ranchers/farmers in eastern Montana and western South Dakota have often been in conflict over natural resources, such as water and grazing lands. But in the 1970s, the two groups began to develop a common interest in protecting the rural environment from large-scale development. Since the 1980s, they developed a series of interethnic environmental alliances that successfully opposed coal and uranium mines, bombing ranges, and other "outside" threats to their lands and cultures. A common defense of the local place provided a path out of historic natural resources conflicts. Alliances tended to be initiated by traditionalist and activist Native Americans who strongly asserted their tribal identity at the same time as they built bridges to white neighbors around common environmental concerns. This approach simultaneously strengthened a recognition of difference and similarities between Native and non-Native communities. The grassroots alliances promoted a territorially based, multiethnic "place membership" to build cooperation across racial lines, rather than state-sponsored "reconciliation" programs. Continuing cultural and economic differences made individual alliances difficult to sustain, although the series of alliances progressively improved relations between certain local communities.

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