Water is one of the most valuable resources for indigenous Indian tribes settling in the United States. According to the established traditions, it is a sanctuary for them. That is why the access to water and the right to use it freely – the issue referred to as water rights – is one of the most critical challenges in developing relations between the government of the United States and the tribes. Its significance is related not only to the importance of water in everyday lives and rituals of Indians but also the recognition and protection of the fundamental rights of minorities without regard to the level of their sovereignty.
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It is essential to keep in mind that the issue of water rights – either tribal or those of dominant groups – is closely related to a great variety of associated rights, including but not limited to dam construction, agricultural and housing needs, fishing, environmental health, and managing natural resources. At the same time, it is inseparable from a wide range of responsibilities. Nevertheless, the paper at hand will not pay attention to all of the associated rights. Instead, the major focus will be made on the right to water supply support and domestic water availability. In other words, the subject of the given research is protecting the access of indigenous tribes to water. In this case, adequate access to water for satisfying both housing and agriculture-related needs of tribes is the central matter of concern.
Therefore, the paper at hand aims at reviewing one of the cases connected to tribal water rights. The objective is not only to describe the case and parties involved in it but also to make an attempt to estimate the influence of public opinion on reaching a decision on the case and its legal consequences. The motivation for focusing on this aspect of rights protection is the fact that legal and public negotiations are commonly affected by the desire of influential parties involved (such as governmental organizations or representatives of legal institutions) to solve them positively as well as the position of a minority (a tribe) in the society – its legal recognition and sovereignty.
Reviewing the Case Related to Tribal Water Rights
The issue of tribal water rights is connected to a variety of legal and court cases. At the same time, it is a common subject of public debates and negotiations. Nevertheless, most of the cases are associated with recognizing the right to access tribes to water. That is why the paper at hand aims at reviewing only one of the cases – Chippewa Cree Tribe settling the Rocky Boy’s Reservation v. the State of Montana. The motivation for selecting this case among the array of other similar issues is its direct connection to the challenge of recognizing the water rights of indigenous tribes as well as the leading role of the community in the outcomes of legal cases and their influence on the lives of tribes and the further protection of their rights (Cosens 9). In this case, the direct impact of the community and public opinion can be explained by the fact that the tribe is officially recognized as the indigenous one. For this reason, the community supported the positive outcomes of the case and recognized that the rights should be protected.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe issue has a durable history. It was resolved dating back to 1997. The central matter of concern was the request to review and represent the details of water support for all tribe members. The legal request was addressed to the Montana State Legislature to protect the right of the Chippewa Cree Tribe to clear water supply. Nevertheless, it was not the only issue related to the case. People dwelling within the area referred to as the Rocky Boy’s Reservation claimed that their right to domestic water was violated because not all families were provided with it.
It is essential to note that the initial conflict related to the 1997 settlement on tribal water rights dates back to 1992. It was connected to the overall dependence of the Chippewa Cree Tribe on agriculture as the foundation of its economic development. Because almost half of the community members living under the poverty threshold, guaranteeing adequate access to water to support the further economic development of the tribe and reduce unemployment was a must. That is why the reservation initiated public negotiations to resolve the challenge of the lack of water resources. Wide public negotiations were the ground of the case. It began with the issuance of the resolution by official bodies of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, claiming that the tribe’s rights to water should be recognized and protected. This initiative was possible due to the official recognition and sovereignty of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, which meant that it was eligible for creating its legal bodies and passing official documents. Nevertheless, the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission decided not to vote for it, explaining the discriminative decision to protect off-reservation citizens’ rights.
From this perspective, the case under consideration is directly connected to the challenge of recognizing and securing natural rights. In this case, it is the right to water supply support and adequate and unlimited access to water bot domestic and clear. Because of the ambiguity of the concept of adequate access to water, it is critical to keep in mind that it is referred to as satisfying all needs for water – food preparation, drinking, agriculture, and household. Still, the central focus was made on satisfying the tribe’s agricultural needs dependent upon agriculture as the foundation of its economic development and stability. The issue was connected to the lack of well and construction necessary for addressing the necessity of irrigation of crops. In this way, the case is connected not only to the issue of long-term residence of tribe members in the Rocky Boy’s reservation but also the sovereignty of the tribe and the opportunity to manage sacred water resources in a way they find appropriate and relevant.
Parties Involved in the Case Process
The 1997 case addressing tribal water rights was associated with the official involvement of three parties. The claimant was the Chippewa Cree Tribe settling the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana. The defendant is the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission that was requested to review the details of water supply support and access to domestic water in the reservation. The third legal party involved in the Montana State Legislature was responsible for addressing the case and adjudicating concern.
However, regardless of the limited number of legally involved parties, the case had a wide public resonance. As for now, it is one of the legally recognized cases on tribal water rights, which is commonly referred to and cited in all legal documents on tribal rights prepared and issued by the President’s Administration (U. S. Department of the Interior). Simultaneously, it is a common subject of public debates due to the references in official documents. More than that, the opinion of off-reservation citizens was considered while reaching the final decision on the case. Theses were both observers and public officials that participated in the case. In this way, society is the fourth party involved in reviewing this case, even though it is not an officially listed one.
The Solution of the Issue
As mentioned above, the case on Chippewa Cree Tribe’s adequate access to water resources was a lengthy and troublesome process. The perception of the issue changed over the long five years of the dispute. At the very beginning of the story, when the officials of the reservations filed the resolution claiming adequate access to water to the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission, it was not satisfied. The reservation representatives expected that the Compact Commission would vote for passing this resolution, thus acting in compliance with water rights laws (the solutions of the previous similar cases), guaranteeing the necessary supply of water to indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission paid special to the off-reservation public’s opinion, therefore, ignoring the provisions of the law. In this way, the case’s initial stage is characterized by severe opposition and the desire to violate the tribe’s natural rights. From this perspective, the off-reservation public countered tribal water rights by affecting the Compact Commission’s decisions. Speaking of public debates’ involvement, both ordinary citizens and public officials were expressing their opinions on the issues. Because none of the supported the claim was not satisfied by the Compact, and natural rights were neglected.
Nevertheless, the situation changed in 1997 when the Rocky Boy’s Reservation representatives filed a case to the Montana State Legislature. They claimed that their rights were violated, and the Compact Commission ignored the legal documents’ provisions. This time, the Tribal Council of the Chippewa Cree Tribe received the absolute support of tribe members due to the growing economic instability and increasing poverty rates. Here, it is essential to note that back in 1992, the tribe members avoided participation in and support similar cases. As the situation changed and all of them expressed their support of the case, there were enough grounds for making the State Legislature involved in reviewing the details of water supply support to the tribe and people settling the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.
Due to the broad-based support of the Tribal Council of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, both Montana Governor and Montana State Legislature observed the claim. They concluded that the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission should respond to the reservation’s file and satisfy it. In this way, in 1997, tribal rights were protected by the official bodies. Still, it is critical to note that the Governor and the Legislature were not the only supporters of the tribe. The case got a wide public resonance. This time, most public officials and off-reservation citizens expressed the opinions that the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission violated the sacred rights of the tribe and failed to fulfill the United States’ trust responsibilities. In this case, the concept of trust responsibilities is referred to as protecting the rights of indigenous tribes and respecting the representatives of the minorities. More than that, tribal water rights were protected by the United States Department of the Interior that criticized the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission for countering tribal rights (Cosens 3). This might have been the involvement of the Department of the Interior that affected the positive outcomes of the case. Nevertheless, the result is all that matters.
That said, this case was associated with the 1997 Water Settlement between the State of Montana and Chippewa Cree Tribe and the 199 Water Enhancement Supply Act. According to these two documents, a public agreement was reached. The foundation of this agreement is the guarantee of the allocation of funds aimed at the implementation of the water quality monitoring program. More than that, the decision is connected to investing in the quality discharge of water supply. Finally, according to these documents, the State of Montana warranted the allocation of funds to construct the network of wells across the territory of the reservation. It is essential to mention that even though the foundation of the dispute was the access to water necessary for satisfying agricultural needs (irrigation systems, in particular), the solution of the case was even more comprehensive because it included the guarantee to provide all members of the tribe with the adequate access to domestic and clear water.
Bearing in mind what was mentioned above, it is evident that the case’s solution had positive consequences for the members of the tribe. Nevertheless, it is critical to realize that the legal outcomes might have differed if the Tribal Council stepped back after the first failure. More than that, the success might have been connected to the fact that the public countered the tribe’s rights in 1992. In this way, the positive outcomes of the case might have been more of a demonstration that the United States do care for the rights of the minorities instead of a just solution because the State of Montana guaranteed the recognition of tribal water rights only after the involvement of the United States Department of the Interior and severe criticism of the initial settlement. The same can be proved by the changes in public opinion over the course of the case from countering rights to protecting them.
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Relation Between the Issue and the Broader Challenge of Tribal Water Rights
The 1997 case on Chippewa Cree water rights is directly associated with the overall challenge of recognizing and protecting the right to water of indigenous tribes. It can be viewed from two perspectives – legal and social. Within the legal framework, it is connected to the decisions of similar cases. The major reference is the 1908 Winters v. United States case. It was the first legal document pointing to the criticality of adequate access to water of all tribes and protecting these rights at different levels, including state and federal (Church et al. 61). It is as well essential to recall that the concept of adequate access to water resources is perceived from the perspective of satisfying both agricultural and domestic needs for water.
More than that, the case is associated with tribal sovereignty only so that no focus should be made on long-residual intents of tribe members. This statement can be explained by the fact that in 1992, off-reservation citizens and public official countered the rights of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, even though around three thousand people (the officially recognized population of the tribe) have settled the territory of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation for more than 100 years. From this perspective, long-residual intent is not connected to the outcomes of the dispute because in case if it were, the issue would have been resolved positively, and the protection of the rights would have been guaranteed at the very beginning of the problem when the Tribal Council filed an issue to Montana Water Rights Compact Commission in 1992.
At the same time, the 1992-1997 case of Chippewa Cree Tribe is related to the overall challenge of protecting tribal water rights. It was not the only case on adequate access to water. On the other hand, it was among the scarce cases that were resolved positively for indigenous tribes members. From this perspective, the dispute is associated with the imperfection of social relations in this sphere because, as for now, the challenge of protecting the rights of Indian minorities is still critical because they lack governmental support and are often discriminated against (Wilkins and Stark 49). It means that the issue involving Chippewa Cree Tribe gives hope to the thousands of tribes members, settling other reservations across the United States because of its public resonance and references in official documents of the United States Department of the Interior. In this way, it points to the hope that Indian tribes could trust the states’ official bodies because the Department of the Interior can become their trustee and help to guarantee their sacred natural rights in case of necessity (Cosens 3).
Connection of the Water Rights Case to the Theory of Multiculturalism
Because theories of multiculturalism are commonly deployed for understanding the relationship between minorities and dominant groups of society, multiculturalism makes up an appropriate choice for analyzing different issues and their consequences, including the dispute under consideration. This case can be perceived from different perspectives. First, it is the perfect example of gaining a better understanding of the liberal approach to treating minorities. According to this theoretical perspective, the rights of minorities should be recognized, discrimination should be avoided, and all representatives of the minorities should be supported to help them live decent lives (Crowder 58). One might argue that this case is not connected to liberalism concerning tribes and minorities because their rights were significantly violated at the very beginning of the process. Nevertheless, recalling the outcomes of the case and the legal consequences it had and the influence of the issue of the lives of the indigenous tribe, this statement is justifiable.
More than that, it is critical to note that the evolution of the liberal approach was a lengthy and troublesome process, just like the Chippewa Cree Tribe case, in particular, and the overall recognition of tribal rights in general. It began with ignoring and violating the right of minorities due to the belief in the supremacy of dominant groups and evolved to progressive. That said, the connection to the liberal perspective of multiculturalism is seen not only in the consequences of the case but also in developing a theoretical perspective and the changes in public opinion regarding the dispute.
Except for the liberal approach to perceiving and treating ethnic minorities and members of tribes, this case is closely connected to the assumption that it is imperative to support the constructive dialogue between the official bodies and the tribes (and minorities) to foster positive changes in society. This assumption is the foundation for minimizing the risks of discrimination and eliminating social injustice (Crowder 58). Recalling the process of reviewing and resolving the case, one might oppose the belief that the dialog between the Chippewa Cree Tribe and the State of Montana was constructive and effective because of the severe violation of tribal rights and significant countering of these rights by the public. Nevertheless, the heart of this assumption is the involvement of other legal bodies, guiding the process of liberalization and enhancing the protection of tribal rights.
Keeping in mind the changes connected to the United States Department of the Interior’s engagement, it is evident that the dialog became constructive and effective at the final stages of case reviewing. What is even more paramount, the consequences of the case entailed positive changes in society and did contribute to overcoming the challenge of violating the sacred natural rights of the tribes settling the Rocky Boy’s Reservation. Moreover, it modified the model of social relations between the Reservation dwellers and off-reservation citizens, because the latter seized to perceive the tribes as the threat to their welfare and thieves of their natural resources (water), accepting the fact that tribal wellbeing is positively connected to the improvement of the social atmosphere in the state of Montana.
Finally, this case is the representation of numerous rights of tribes, not only those related to water and managing natural resources. In particular, multiculturalism theories are based on the assumption that minorities and tribes are entitled to initiating public debates and filing claims to official institutions in case of noticing that their rights are violated, or representatives of tribes are maltreated (Crowder 66). Recalling the details of the case, the Chippewa Cree Tribe (its Tribal Council) both initiated a public debate and sought for the legal support of official bodies of the State of Montana and the United States.
The matter of public debates can be perceived from both negative and positive perspectives based on public opinion and public involvement. That said, initially, it was a negative development not only because non-reservation citizens countered tribal water rights but also because of the poor involvement of reservation dwellers into the debate. In this way, the issue lacked tribal support, and the public significantly supported the violation of tribal rights in 1992. However, throughout the development of this case, the public opinion regarding the issue altered, as non-reservation citizens started to believe in the criticality of protecting minorities’ rights. More than that, tribal members supported the claim, therefore turning it into a broad-based issue. From this perspective, the public debate became positive not only because of the protection of tribal rights but also due to enhancing the sense of unity among reservation dwellers as well as the sense of solidarity and integration of people living within and outside the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.
At the same time, the case is connected to the changes in legal institutions’ official support. In this way, it points out that maltreated minorities have the right to seek legal protection in case of necessity, as mentioned above. However, it is imperative to note that this dispute is a perfect representation of the altering perception of the problem because, in most cases, similar issues rarely find adequate support so that only wide public resonance or the involvement of a more influential and powerful institution contributes to the support and protection of minorities. That said, the 1997 case of Chippewa Cree Tribe is one of the most appropriate examples for getting familiar with multiculturalism theories due to being ambiguous and bringing up differing aspects of the approach to describing relations between minorities and dominant groups.
Does Sovereignty Make a Difference?
Analyzing the case of Chippewa Cree Tribe dwelling in the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, the critical success factor is the official recognition of the tribe by the United States Government and the State of Montana. It is essential to note that the tribe was federally recognized in 1916. The state acknowledged the necessity of creating the Rocky Boy’s Reservation to serve as a constant settlement for the representatives of the tribe. Over the century, the tribe managed to create its bodies of legal power (Tribal Council), passed the Constitution, and developed bonds with the State of Montana. Because of the sovereignty, local institutions were forced to take care of tribe members that initially led to the dispute.
The fact that it is the sovereignty that played a major role in the case outcomes and adopting the 1997 Water Settlement and the 1999 Water Enhancement Supply Act can be proved by several details. First and foremost, only officially recognized tribes are protected under the provisions of legal cases on this issue. For instance, 1908 Winters v. United States case does not apply to tribes that do not correspond with official recognition criteria (Church et al. 61). In this way, the government cannot guarantee their protection and support. Moreover, if the tribe were not officially recognized, likely, the issue might not have become the subject of a wide public debate because it would have made no interest to the public. More than that, non-recognized minorities cannot file cases to legal bodies of power. It means that the Legislature might have opposed the necessity to review and resolve the case.
Also, even in case of official recognition of the tribe’s sovereignty, the rights of these people are vague. In this way, it means that reviewing cases of sovereign tribes is troublesome, which is even more critical when speaking of non-recognized minorities. At the same time, the documents issued by tribal councils of non-recognized tribes are not perceived as official ones (Wilkins and Stark 148). It means that the state is not legally obliged to review them or solve cases and address public debated initiated by similar documents and institutions. That said, if the Chippewa Cree Tribe were not a sovereign one, its history would not have become a successful one. It is connected to the fact that the United States Department of the Interior would not have supported the tribe and protected its natural and sacred rights.
The issue of water rights of indigenous tribes is among the central matters of concern, having a direct influence on the development of the United States in the future. It can be explained by the fact that protection (or countering) of tribal rights affects not only the perception of the legal authority institutions but also the international image of the country. It is associated with the fulfillment of legal provisions and corresponding to official documents. Nevertheless, it is critical to note that the recognition and protection of tribal rights are inseparable from both public and institutional support. Otherwise, it might result in lengthy debates and negotiations, increased risks of social instability, violation of fundamental rights, and discrimination. At the same time, the 1997 case points to the fact that official sovereignty is the factor that has a direct influence on the public and legal involvement in reviewing and resolving the disputes because tribes which do not fall under the criteria for recognition are less likely to be protected and supported by the state.
Church, Jerilyn, et al. “Tribal Water Rights: Exploring Dam Construction in Indian Country.” The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, vol. 43, no. 1, 2015, 60-63.
Cosens, Barbara A. “Legitimacy, Adaptation, and Resilience in Ecosystem Management.” Ecology & Society, vol. 18, no. 1, 2013, 3-11.
Crowder, George. Theories of Multiculturalism: An Introduction. Polity Press, 2013.
U. S. Department of the Interior. “Indian Water Rights.” U.S. Department of the Interior. 2012, Web.
Wilkins, David E., and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011.