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Reservations and Reservoirs: Deferred Tribal Justice on the Columbia and Colorado River

by Emelie Frojen, 2016-17 Student Fellow

The ongoing controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline has brought Indigenous resource justice issues to the forefront of public awareness. In the fourth section of the 2017 State of the Rockies Report, Emelie Frojen examines the extensive history and modern manifestations of "deferred justice," and how a more just resource allocation system may be realized. 

Click the title above or the image below to read Emelie's full report!


"This paper will analyze Native American water injustice, as well as representation in river policy and management in the Columbia and Colorado River basins. In recent years, water justice in these two basins has become a pressing issue. However, the means by which Native American water rights and representation are actualized from paper rights to wet water rights varies dramatically between the two western river basins. Despite the differences between the two basins, there is a strong commonality in that all Tribes experience a form of deferred justice, meaning there is a lag time between when the courts declare Native American water rights and when, if ever, those rights are tangibly quanti ed. Here, I analyze three Tribes as case studies: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (Colorado), the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Washington), and the Nez Perce (Idaho). This paper will examine the means of achieving water justice on the two rivers, and the issue of deferred justice, by seeking to answer the primary questions of: what is the cause of deferred water justice? What can be done to diminish it? How does settler-colonialism contribute to deferred justice? What does modern water justice look like, and what are some challenges and solutions to achieving it?"