Resource Sovereignty and Indigenous Rights in the American West

We are at an inflection point in resource sovereignty for Native American tribes in the western United States because of recent court decisions, legislation, and settlement agreements. The tribes of the Klamath River have recognized the river’s legal personhood as part of a broader dam removal project. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 decision in Arizona v. Navajo Nation on the Colorado River has implications for the trust relationship between tribes and the federal government. Currently ongoing trials quantifying the water rights of the Hopi people and Navajo Nation, the recent Hualapai settlement agreement and water marketing legislation for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and other ongoing settlement and legislation negotiations on water rights for tribes will determine the role of tribes in addressing shortage in the Colorado River Basin. All of these current issues occur with Deb Haaland as the first Native American to serve as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for the Biden/Harris administration, an unprecedented amount of federal dollars allocated to drought relief and tribal settlements, and under the shadow of uncertainty with a looming presidential election. This moment creates unique opportunities and challenges for tribes and their neighbors in sharing and managing natural resources while protecting and promoting tribal sovereignty.