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Native American leader says protecting water rights is key for tribes

Tristan Ahtone

Native American tribes need to make sure they are protecting their natural resources. Eastern Shoshone Business Council member Wes Martel, from the Wind River Indian Reservation, spoke during a University of Wyoming American Indian Studies program this week. Martel said tribes need to be more careful about the kinds of contracts they enter into for energy development. He added that water is the new gold but very few tribes are taking real steps to secure this resource.  

“It’s really critical that Tribes start laying the foundation for claiming their water rights,” said Martel. “And the way you do that is by developing tribal water codes, a tribal water law. And we need tribal water laws because Western water law cannot protect our water rights the way we need to protect it as Indian people. We have a special spiritual and traditional attachment to the water. Our elders call it the water of life.”

Martel said that many younger tribal leaders lack the historical knowledge to contextualize some of today’s issues and hence do not have a good handle on sovereignty.

The event gathered tribal leaders from around the country. You can hear a selection of the full length presentations below.

Wilkins_Cobell Presentation.mp3
David Wilkins: Hollow Justice: The Cobell Settlement.
Crazy Bull_Tribal Colleges Presentation.mp3
Cheryl Crazy Bull: What is Above is Below: The Sacred in Native Higher Education - Influence, Identity, and Prosperity.

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