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Changing Currents 2017: Tribal Water Summit

Our Water from Summit to Sea: Intertribal Water Forum


Establishing a Tribal Collaboration for Water Resources

Water is a highly critical and invaluable resource for many tribal communities and is a resource that is at the heart of tribal culture, spirituality, and society.  Tribal communities view their relationship to the water and other natural resources as one of stewardship.  This stewardship is a legacy that has been handed down from one generation to the next for countless generations.  The key principle in the stewardship approach is “to leave the resource better than when you found it.”  Today, stewardship to water and natural resources is becoming difficult as the demands and pressures on these resources increases. 


In recent years, tribal water resources have been under increasing pressure for a multitude of reasons and demands, including commerce, agriculture, fish/wildlife, municipal use, recreation, hydropower, and more.  These demands are facing a bigger peril, which is the impact climate change is having on water resources, hydro-systems, and water management schemes. Despite how critical a resource water is to the tribal world, conversations about water resources has consistently been sub-issue focused or as a secondary issue.  This holds particularly true in terms of intertribal collaboration. For example, the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, aligned tribes and federal agencies on fish and wildlife and hydropower operations, but water is a secondary issue or supporting cast member to the desired outcomes of the Accords.  This is the most recent effort in the Pacific Northwest, where water has been a topic of intertribal coordination.


To date, there is an imperative need to gather tribes in a forum to begin coordination around water resources.  Looking at the State of Oregon and the nine federally-recognized tribes, there is vast diversity in location, environment, culture, and water resources.  This project would bring the nine federally-recognized tribes together to begin a dialogue that will capture their common interests around water and outline some prominent objectives, ideally some policy objectives.  These objectives should be realistic and achievable. 


William W. Knight Law Center

University of Oregon- School of Law
1221 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1221


Direlle Calica
ATNI Energy Program