Engaging Southwestern Tribes in Sustainable Water Resources Topics and Management

Chief, K., Meadow, A. and Whyte, K., 2016. Engaging Southwestern Tribes in Sustainable Water Resources Topics and Management. Water, 8(8), p.350.
Year Published: 
University of Arizona

Indigenous peoples in North America have a long history of understanding their societies as having an intimate relationship with their physical environments. Their cultures, traditions, and identities are based on the ecosystems and sacred places that shape their world. Their respect for their ancestors and ‘Mother Earth’ speaks of unique value and knowledge systems different than the value and knowledge systems of the dominant United States settler society. The value and knowledge systems of each indigenous and non-indigenous community are different but collide when water resources are endangered. One of the challenges that face indigenous people regarding the management of water relates to their opposition to the commodification of water for availability to select individuals. External researchers seeking to work with indigenous peoples on water research or management must learn how to design research or water management projects that respect indigenous cultural contexts, histories of interactions with settler governments and researchers, and the current socio-economic and political situations in which indigenous peoples are embedded. They should pay particular attention to the process of collaborating on water resource topics and management with and among indigenous communities while integrating Western and indigenous sciences in ways that are beneficial to both knowledge systems. The objectives of this paper are to (1) to provide an overview of the context of current indigenous water management issues, especially for the U.S. federally recognized tribes in the Southwestern United States; (2) to synthesize approaches to engage indigenous persons, communities, and governments on water resources topics and management; and (3) to compare the successes of engaging Southwestern tribes in five examples to highlight some significant activities for collaborating with tribes on water resources research and management. In discussing the engagement approaches of these five selected cases, we considered the four “simple rules” of tribal research, which are to ask about ethics, do more listening, follow tribal research protocols, and give back to the community. For the five select cases of collaboration involving Southwestern tribes, the success of external researchers with the tribes involved comprehensive engagement of diverse tribal audience from grassroots level to central tribal government, tribal oversight, on-going dialogue, transparency of data, and reporting back. There is a strong recognition of the importance of engaging tribal participants in water management discussions particularly with pressing impacts of drought, climate change, and mining and defining water rights.

water resources, management, climate change, mitigation, adaptation, water rights, mining claims