They Came but Could Not Conquer


They Came but Could Not Conquer

The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Alaska Native Communities

Diane J. Purvis

314 pages
22 photographs, 1 map, index


May 2024


$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

As the environmental justice movement slowly builds momentum, Diane J. Purvis highlights the work of Indigenous peoples in Alaska’s small rural villages, who have faced incredible odds throughout history yet have built political clout fueled by vigorous common cause in defense of their homes and livelihood. Starting with the transition from Russian to American occupation of Alaska, Alaska Natives have battled with oil and gas corporations; fought against U.S. plans to explode thermonuclear bombs on the edge of Native villages; litigated against political plans to flood Native homes; sought recompense for the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster; and struggled against the federal government’s fishing restrictions that altered Native paths for subsistence.

In They Came but Could Not Conquer Purvis presents twelve environmental crises that occurred when isolated villages were threatened by a governmental monolith or big business. In each, Native peoples rallied together to protect their land, waters, resources, and a way of life against the bulldozer of unwanted, often dangerous alterations labeled as progress. In this gripping narrative Purvis shares the inspiring stories of those who possessed little influence over big business and regulations yet were able to protect their traditional lands and waterways anyway.

Author Bio

Diane J. Purvis taught cultural history at Alaska Pacific University for twenty-five years. She is the author of Ragged Coast, Rugged Coves: Labor, Culture, and Politics in Southeast Alaska Canneries (Nebraska, 2021) and The Drive of Civilization: The Stikine Forest versus Americanism.


“A testament to the resilience of Alaska Native individuals and their communities in the face of governmental, commercial, and private intrusions into their homelands. Diane Purvis illustrates how Indigenous peoples have defended their rights and lands, as powerful myths and assumptions about the frontier, progress, and the infallibility of Western science have devalued their traditional lifeways and threatened their very survival. When outright victory has not been possible, the persistence and ingenuity of Indigenous peoples have led to collaborative and creative solutions.”—Mary Ehrlander, author of Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son

“A badly needed perspective on the intersection of Native rights and environmental regulations. Alaska Natives’ status and pressures for Alaskan resource development and resource management come together here to provide an on-the-ground perspective from Alaska Native villages.”—Steven M. Fountain, coauthor of History of American Indians: Exploring Diverse Roots

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Fish Camp to Picnic Bench in Áak’w Land
2. Aleutian Shores to Scorched Earth
3. Sealers to Slaves on the Pribilof Islands
4. Hunters to Reindeer Herders
5. Baleen to Bombs, Project Chariot
6. Boreal Forest to Floodplain, Rampart Dam
7. Etok versus Big Oil
8. A Whaling Captain and the World
9. When the Raven Flies with the Dove
10. The Day the Waters Died
11. Grandmother to Water Guardian
12. Fishing for Fines on the Kuskokwim River
Epilogue: The Aftermath

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