“Our Winter’s Rights!,” Decolonizing western water law in an era of indigenous resurgence

Authors: Andrew Curley*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural Geography
Keywords: indigenous, Navajo, water, social movements, decolonization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Increasingly, indigenous communities in the U.S. are pressured to settle water claims for resources they have long used and are reliant upon for survival. In the western states, water laws benefit settler communities who can prove “priority dates” and whose exploitative use of water is protected in these laws.

But Native organizers, activists, and community members are challenging colonial laws and working toward building a politics of decolonization. They organize and voice opposition to proposed settlements because these settlements do not recognize inherent indigenous rights to their water (voiced as "our winter's right").

This paper focuses on the contested meanings of water among Navajo organizers, activists, and community members produced in opposition to the logic of water commodification inherent in water settlements. I focus on the proposed settlements between the Navajo Nation and the State of Arizona over the Little Colorado River in 2012 when community members successfully challenged and defeated a proposed water settlement.

I find that Native social movements are changing the political and legal possibilities around water, land, and access to resources under the control of colonial governments. Their movements toward decolonizing water have profound legal and political consequences for the U.S. Southwest as climate change intensifies the need for water in these lands.

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