In Honor of World Water Day (March 22)
Categories: Water Rights
Protecting and preserving tribal water rights is one of the top priorities for NARF today.
From Oregon to California to Kansas and across the Midwestern United States, many Native peoples have been fighting for decades to secure the water that belongs to them. The United States Supreme Court in 1908 said that Indian tribes are entitled to sufficient water to make their reservations livable homelands.
But in state after state, non-Indian groups have developed most (if not all) of the water and left tribes literally high and dry. And for decades, the federal government did nothing to protect the tribal interests. In fact, the government provided huge subsidies to develop the water for use by others, to the exclusion of tribes. This sadly continues to this day in too many places.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life.
When something as basic to human life, something as sacred to our tribes as water, is under threat, then we are called to do all we can.
Since our beginning, NARF has represented tribes across the nation in their fight to maintain, restore, and protect their water rights. More recently, NARF supporters have been actively petitioning the government to do what is legally required to preserve the water rights for Native American tribes and fully fund Indian water settlements. And every two years, NARF co-sponsors a symposium on Indian Reserved Water Rights Claims.
And all of these efforts are paying off. In 2017, we saw several developments that favored tribal water rights. For example, in November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the lower court decisions that affirmed the water rights of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. In September, the U.S. Court of Claims re-affirmed the superiority of the senior water rights of the Klamath Tribes and downriver Klamath Basin tribes over other water interests in the Klamath Basin. We celebrate these victories and thank all of our allies who helped make them possible.
However, we also recognize that the combination of growing populations in the West, coupled with the effects of climate change producing shrinking water supplies, mean an even more uncertain water supply picture for tribes. Tribes’ ability to ensure the availability of enough clean water and to plan a responsible water future for themselves and future generations will continue to be a fundamental challenge for decades to come. The ability of tribal governments to work collaboratively as partners with decision makers in neighboring communities will be vital to effective planning and the efficient use of everyone’s resources.
Of course, this will be possible only when the existence of tribal rights are recognized and respected by surrounding communities.
Please help us continue this fight for an essential life necessity and a sacred natural resource.