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240 CHAPTER 16 Powering Modern America Indian Energy and Postwar Consumption ANDREW NEEDHAM Design for Dreaming, a 1956 short film created to market new products from a variety of companies, epitomizes a vision of postwar American modernity. The film opens in a suburban bedroom. A top-hatted gentleman materializes suddenly, waking a sleeping young housewife before quickly sweeping her away into the world of tomorrow’s products, today. After briefly stopping to examine the cars of GM’s new model year, the man sweeps the now ball-gowned housewife into the “Kitchen of Tomorrow ” and disappears with a poof. The housewife briefly laments, in a minor blues key, that “Just like a man. You give him a break / and you wind up in a kitchen, baking a cake.” The music starts to swing, however, as she surveys the kitchen. Ovens pop to life, and beaters descend with the insertion of a punch card. “No need for the bride to feel tragic, the rest is push-button magic / So whether you bake or broil or stew, the Frigidaire kitchen does it all for you.” As dinner cooks, the woman abandons her apron, changing into tennis clothes, golf outfits, and a swimming suit before the buzzing timer signals that her cake is done.1 The 1956 film easily fits into a number of familiar historical narratives about postwar America. The housewife’s overwhelming domestic concerns reflected the postwar division of gender roles, critiqued only three years later in The Feminine Mystique. The “kitchen of tomorrow’s” open layout demonstrated the new residential spaces of suburban America. Multinational corporations that produced goods for both “the Consumer’s Republic,” to use Lizabeth Cohen’s term, and the “military-industrial complex” of the Cold War national security state made the name-brand appliances that filled the kitchen. And the kitchen’s “push-button magic” displayed the emergence of what one historian of technology has called “high energy society,” a vision of modern life in which ready and available energy supplies created car culture, transformed domestic life, and drove suburban sprawl.2 Indians appear to have little place in this vision of modernity. Few of Indian Energy and Postwar Consumption 241 the Indians moving to cities in the postwar years lived in suburbs, excluded both by federal policies that saw racial difference as a sign of unstable property value and by the structures of poverty that trapped most urban Indians in the least well-paid sectors of the American economy. Indians living on reservations supposedly lived at an even greater remove from the new world of defense manufacturing and high-tech consumer goods that defined affluence in postwar America. Located in peripheral locations that critics likened to “prisons” and “concentration camps,” reservations seemed the antithesis of postwar modernity.3 If we follow the electric power lines that reached into suburban houses back to their beginnings, however, surprising new connections between Indian peoples and postwar modernity appear. Moving away from homes, many of those power lines led back to Indian land. In the Pacific Northwest , power lines to Portland and Seattle traced back to the plutoniumrefinement facilities at Hanford and to dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, rivers that had, for millennia, formed the subsistence base for the Pacific Northwest’s Native people.4 In the Midwest, transmission lines into Chicago and Minneapolis began at power plants fed by coal from Crow lands and a power plant abutting the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, both in eastern Montana.5 And in the Southwest, the lines into Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, cities where much of the nation’s aerospace industry located after World War II, originated at five “mine-mouth” coal-fired power plants on or near the Navajo Reservation. Following the trail of these power lines introduces Indians in new ways into narratives of postwar history. It demonstrates that Indian lands often provided the energies that fueled the Consumer’s Republic and the military-industrial complex. Following power lines does more than that, however. It allows historians to tell new stories of environmental change and regional inequality by showing how postwar prosperity rested on far-flung ecological transformations that dramatically altered the way of life of Indian peoples, as well as other residents of the so-called periphery. It also contains stories about the way such changes were justified as a form of “modernization,” a way of teaching supposedly isolated and backward Indian peoples the ways and means of American economic life. That American advisers carried these...


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