Jul 25, 2014 - Indian Water Rights Concerns Draws Strategists – by LRI

Indian Water Rights Conference Draws Strategists

Long, long ago there was only darkness (han), han was not nothing but was and is a “darkness”, during this time Inyan was the foremost spiritual entity and he became aware of himself and was lonely so he decided to create another, this was and is Maka (Earth) and to do this he had to Create of himself. Thus, he began to spin with such explosive force that the whole of Creation was begun but that Creation was only possible because he was willing to sacrifice of himself, to give up his place as the foremost power (under the Incomprehensible Sacred) and to give his own blood (which is water) which now carries his power, but he remained with with sacred power and became tunka (the oldest god, or the “rock” as it is known today). -A Creation Story of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation). Spiritual Leader Leonard Crow Dog was on hand to impart the spiritual relationship that Original Peoples of the hemisphere, and all beings by extension, have with the water. Crow Dog stated “our souls are hungry, for what?, the water of life.”

The Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance hosted the Missouri River & Ogallala Aquifer Indian Water Rights Conference 2014 in the Black Hills of Tetonwan Territory (Rapid City, SD) July 23-24, 2014. The main topics of the gathering were Water Quality, Quanitification, and addressing the Army Corp of Engineers plan to unilaterally manage the river, to the exclusion and detriment of Tribal Nations (who possess Treaty and Winter’s Rights to the surface and ground waters, river beds and banks).

President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe offered opening remarks citing the extreme danger of uranium (Dewey Burdock Uranium in the Black Hills) and oil development (Keystone XL and other infrastructure) and pipelines going on all over our treaty territory. Pres. Scott urged all to be willing to fight by all means the potential, inevitable, poisoning of the Ogallala Aquifer which is one of the largest underground freshwater resources in the Western hemisphere.

On hand was Mario Gonzalez who stated “the next big fight is going to be about water, we need to start asserting ourselves, we may not be quantified but we have inherent and Winter’s doctrine rights so why are we sitting here allowing the Army Corp of Engineers to manage our river (Missouri River). Whether Tribes decide to quantify or not we should manage our water; it is a scarce resource and the problems that face us are monumental. Gonzalez pointed out that 27 Tribes have quantified and that with this gathering interested parties should consider forming a National Tribal Water Rights Association.

Everett Iron Eyes, Sr. has considered quantification or was aware of it at least since 1979 upon a suggestion from Johnson Holy Rock, who urged us (Sioux Nation) to establish a claim to defend our rights. This necessarily included a consideration of quantification, which is still a bad word among some Tribal Nations.

What is quantification Iron Eyes asked: what inherent legal protections are in place to empower us, how do we address downstream navigation versus agricultural and recreational uses upstream where our Tribal Nations live?

Peter Capossela (Attorney) and Thomas M. Watson (Engineer) both addressed the matters of legislative solutions to problems on the Missouri. Seven (7) Tribal Nations were flooded and were forced to remove themselves from the fertile bottomlands along the Missouri by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation under the The Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944 (P.L. 78–534). How do we really know what creating those 7 dams and obliterating those riparian and alluvial resources has done to the entire river basin’s ecosystem which spans several states and 29 Tribal Nations.

Tribal Nations have received compensation for being flooded and removed from their riverbottoms by legislation known as the Joint Tribal Advisory Committee (JTAC) funds. Phyliss Young (CouncilWoman, Standing Rock Nation) explained in detail how her family was removed from the bottomlands and that she wanted to see their families justly compensated.

Retired Professor John Davidson walked the conference through some of the legal history of Indian Water Rights summarizing the Winters v. United States,207 U.S. 564 (1908) (implied reserved water right) with a priority date established as the date of the creation of that reservation. US v. California modified that reserved water right in that Tribal water rights were now related to the Practical Irrigable Acreage standard.

“No energy is developed without water; there is only one place to get water. what are you gonna do about it? the law is nothing more than playground rules for grown ups, the bullies run the institutions” said John Davidson.

The conference was an effective gathering with goals of ensuring water quality and quantity for Tribal Nations and their sustainable growth. The Tribal Nations’ economies in the Missouri River basin were destroyed twice: once when a genocide was committed on the Buffalo, and secondly when they flooded our fertile bottomlands destroying abundant medicines and land from which we could feed ourselves and produce valuable biomass. The conference was moderated by Chase Iron Eyes. Stay tuned to the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance for more info and upcoming meetings.

The Indian Water Rights Conference was sponsored by the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance with thanks going to Doug Crow Ghost (Standing Rock), Charlie Spotted Tail (Rosebud), Paul Little (Oglala), and Reno Red Cloud (Oglala) for organizing and sponsoring the gathering. *photo of Tim Mentz gifting handmade Drum to Leonard Crow Dog (drum made by Kevin Mentz)

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