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Unconquering the Last Frontier

Long before corporations like Enron and Global Crossing made headlines with accusations of greed and impropriety, there was Olympic Power and Development.

Olympic Power, in violation of Washington State law, erected a dam on the Elwha River in 1910. Over the course of the ensuing years, it became clear that the river and its almost incredulously large salmon runs had been sacrificed for hydropower development. Such development was commonly referred to as 'progress.' Nonetheless, it was progress which occurred at tragic expense to the Native American, Elwha Klallam people, who relied upon the river for their sustenance.

Even after the devastating impacts to the river's fisheries and to the tribal community became known, the prevailing social myths, that hydropower was cheap, that it was clean, and that it was beneficial for everybody, continued to be perpetuated.

The film tells the story of the 90-year long struggle of the Elwha tribal community to challenge these perceptions, and eventually to lobby Congress for the removal of the dams and for the restoration of the river's ecosystem and fisheries. It is a struggle which is now producing rewards. Beginning in 2004, the two dams on the Elwha will be removed by the federal government, in the largest dam decommissioning project in the world.

For the Elwha Klallam and for the people of the town of Port Angeles, dam removal provides opportunities for cultural reconciliation and economic renewal.

'Portrays the dignity and wisdom of the Lower Elwha Klallam in the face of almost half a century of racism and political ill-will...shows us how the tribe has taken center stage in the efforts to retain what's left of Elwha salmon stocks. When the stocks return, more than the ecology will be restored...the tribe will have salmon to complete the circle of traditional ceremonial ways.' Adam Burke, High Country News

'Highlights the injustices done to the Lower Elwha Klallam people who relied on the salmon for sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and who paid the price for the dam's cheap electricity.' Sierra Magazine

'It was moving to watch our elders interviewed in the film, and to hear their stories. The young kids in our tribe that are growing up today - they'll have this film to look back on, they'll have the video and the storytelling in it. And they'll know where we come from.' Dennis Sullivan, tribal chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam


Main credits

Lundahl, Robert (film director)
Lundahl, Robert (film producer)
Lundahl, Robert (screenwriter)
Farmer, Gary (narrator)

Other credits

Principal photography, Robert Lundahl; video editing, Chris Simon, Mark Woloschuk, Ed Rudolph; musical score, Ton Saunders; edited & mastered by Simon Amarasingham, Robert McGraw.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Earth Science
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
Native Americans
Race and Racism
Renewable Energy
Science, Technology, Society
Social Justice
Western US


Native Americans' survival,; hydroelectric development, Elwha River, Elwha Klallam, hydroelectric power, dam removal, salmon, ; Washington; "Unconquering the Last Frontier"; Bullfrog Films