Although dam construction has been an integral tool in development initiatives for nearly a century, dams can have significant negative impacts on local residents, particularly those who are permanently displaced from their homes and must be resettled elsewhere. Dams have unique impacts on indigenous peoples. As a result, many dam construction projects become flashpoints for organized resistance among indigenous peoples. This thesis examines a case that exemplifies indigenous resistance to dam construction: the Saru River Development Project in Hokkaido, Japan, involving the Nibutani Dam (completed 1997) and the Biratori Dam (under construction). This project has been famously opposed by indigenous Ainu landholders. Although much has been written about the legal and political significance of the Ainu’s resistance to the Saru River Development Project, information on the project’s impacts on local Ainu residents is scattered across many disparate sources, and no comprehensive English-language account has yet been produced. This thesis seeks to fill this gap in the literature by cataloging the impacts of the Saru River Development Project as comprehensively as possible and synthesizing available facts into a holistic account.
This thesis organizes these impacts according to the newly-published Matrix Framework (Kirchherr and Charles 2016), enabling it to be more easily compared with other case studies of dam construction around the world. This thesis documents the ways in which inadequate social impact assessment and mitigation efforts may compound the effects of an enduring colonial legacy, contributing to resentment and resistance against development projects on the part of indigenous peoples. It suggests important lessons for improving social impact assessment and mitigation measures, not only for the Saru River Development Project itself, but for any future development project involving indigenous peoples. It also contributes to anthropological knowledge regarding the role of development projects as primary drivers of cultural change in indigenous communities.
The roots of the Saru River Development Project originate in the history of Japan’s colonial invasion of Hokkaido. Political ecology provides a powerful lens through which to examine this history, allowing its influence on Hokkaido’s present-day social-ecological systems to become apparent. In this thesis, I develop a theory of statemaking and subjectmaking that is used to analyze the historical continuities that exist between colonial-era modernization efforts and contemporary development projects, including this one. This historical focus is especially crucial, given the current political climate and the international rise of the far-right, which has increasingly come to embrace a romanticized view of colonial history. By producing historical accounts that shed light on colonial violence, anthropologists can play an active role in combating the resurgence of colonial governmentality. Such historically-focused anthropology, with an explicit focus on “decolonizing” the discourse of contemporary development, is therefore of critical importance—perhaps now more than ever.