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Mervyn November 3, 2010 Reply

Anyone going (with their vehicle) to the Demonstration tomorrow (November 04, 2010) in Window Rock, AZ and the Special Session of the 21st Navajo Nation Council on the proposed Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement? For my phone number write me at: reservationfire@yahoo.com ASAP…

Marion Desmurger December 2, 2010 Reply

I wanted to publish this but due to a lack of time and the currency of the issue, I decided to publish it as a blog post. I hope that's ok.

Water Rights Settlement: Native tribes have won a battle but not the war

While enactment of the Cobell settlement made the front page cover of many newspapers this week, the Senate action to approve a long-awaited water rights settlement four tribes in Indian Country got very little attention.

The water rights settlement was passed by Congress on Tuesday to meet Native Americans’ needs for access to clean drinking water in tribal communities. The four settlements contained in the legislation approved by Congress on Monday refer to the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, the Crow Tribe in Montana, the Pueblos of Taos the Aamodt Settlement in New Mexico. The centerpiece of the agreement will ensure the construction of water infrastructures, rural water systems and irrigation projects.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar expressed great satisfaction with the legislation. “Congress’ approval of the Cobell settlement and the four Indian water rights settlements is nothing short of historic for Indian nations,” he said.

Native tribes are waiting for the President’s final signature of the Claims Settlement Act to celebrate the news.

But if many tribal members see the Act as a victory, others remain hesitant to declare justice done. In many parts of Indian Country, water rights remain a contentious issue that still needs to be addressed at the tribal, local, regional and federal level.

Water shortage, lack of access to water, drought, contamination, and water-related sickness are issues that many tribes, including the Navajo, the Onondaga, the Havasupai and the Lakota Nations (to name only a few) are struggling to overcome despite limited political attention.

“I support these settlements and my administration is committed to addressing the water needs of tribal communities. While these legislative achievements reflect important progress, they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done,” President Obama said.

And President Obama is right. Much work remains to be done.

12 percent of American Indians lack regular access to clean water. And if this statistic is not compelling enough to you, take the whole population of the District of Columbia and deprive all them the use and access to clean drinkable water. Now, you get a quick picture of what 600,000 American Indian go through on an everyday basis in Indian Country.

Isn’t it ironic to hear U.S. experts telling people in Haiti who are now confronted with the deadly epidemic of cholera that they should be drinking and using clean water, when the U.S. government itself is not even able to provide clean water at home?

Americans wouldn’t like their country to be labeled a “Third World nation”. And with a per capita GDP of US $46,000 per year, it clearly isn’t. But if a country with such financial and technological capacities fail to provide almost one million people with what the United Nations considers to be a “human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life”, surely, something is wrong.

We have reached a point in American politics where indigenous peoples’ rights have been overlooked that the implementation of a basic human right has to be measured in terms of the increased cost it represents for the Congressional Office. We have reached a point in American politics where indigenous peoples’ rights have been so overlooked that tribal leaders from the four designated tribes are celebrating something that should have never required years of political struggles and legal battles. Access to clean water is an inherent human right, not something that one should be fighting for.

It took 43 years of litigation for people of the Aamodt settlement to prove this.

On Monday, their voices were finally heard. But if the enactment of the water rights settlement marks a milestone in Native American history, it also reminds us that the road to justice for tribal people has been, is, and will be long.

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