“Our Winters’ Rights”: Challenging Colonial Water Laws

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Much of the scholarship on Indigenous water rights in the United States focuses on legal and political rights awarded or denied in water settlements. This article highlights the voice of settlement opponents within Diné communities over the proposed Little Colorado River Settlement in 2012 between the Navajo Nation and Arizona. Using interviews with key actors, observations of water hearings, and a mini focus group with settlement opponents, my research finds that the proposed water settlement produced contradictory logics, practices, and frameworks that combined two “traditions of Indigenous resistance,” one rooted in the language of self-determination and sovereignty and the other in emerging notions of decolonization. This hybridity of seeking increased water recognition within colonial law, while advocating for decolonial waterscapes, speaks to the complicated and fundamentally entangled political landscapes of Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, in opposing the water settlement, Diné opponents and community members demonstrate that they seek to rectify the injustice of ongoing settler colonialism and realize their collective capabilities as nations, not “Indians,” “tribes,” or “minorities” within and against the authorities of the colonial state.