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In Search of Sustainable Water Management

International Lessons for the American West and Beyond

Edited by Douglas S. Kenney

Water issues in the American West share many similarities with those seen elsewhere in the world as population growth exacerbates longstanding problems of inappropriate water use and management. The contributors to this timely volume examine the universal challenge of sustainable water management to improve the use of water resources already developed and find ways to moderate our growing collective thirst.
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Chapter 4: Protecting Indigenous Rights and Interests in Water

David H. Getches and Sarah B. Van de Wetering


David H. Getches and Sarah B. Van de Wetering With assistance from David Farrier, University of Wollongong; Robyn Tanya Stein, Bowman Gilfillan Inc.; Wang Xi and colleagues, Wuhan University; and Marcos Terena, Coordinator General of Indigenous Rights, Mato Grosso do Sul Access to water is fundamental to the right of indigenous people to use and enjoy their lands and maintain the integrity of their territories. Therefore, water rights are necessary for the cultures of tribes to survive in the ‘melting pot’ of the United States. Economic survival in arid environments often demands that indigenous communities have enough water for irrigation. In addition, many tribes still survive on fishing and hunting, which requires healthy rivers and lakes. John Wiener (2002) has discussed the inextricable historical linkage of culture and livelihood. Where livelihood is dependent on the environment, as it is for native peoples who historically were hunters, fishers, and gatherers, environmental change has undermined indigenous cultures. As native peoples become alienated from an environment in which their culture has evolved, they experience abrupt and sometimes destructive change. The nineteenth-century allotment policy in the United States, designed to separate Indians from their hunting and fishing lifestyle and confine them to small farms, is an apt illustration of this alienation. An explicit goal of the policy was destruction of communal ownership, itself at the heart of tribal cultures. The policy failed and was ultimately rejected, but not before 90 million acres of tribal land was lost (Getches et al., 1998). Along...

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