Reaching Environmental Sovereignty through Cultural Resilience: Blackfeet Water Compact
KeywordsBlackfeet Indian Tribe
Indian Water Rights
AdvisorZedeño, Maria Nieves
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAlthough water rights have dominated a century of legal, environmental, economic, and political discourse on Native American dispossession, lesser-known Indigenous cultural relationships with water are far older and profound. This doctoral dissertation research analyzes the Blackfeet Water Compact (BWC) and its immediate effects on the Blackfeet Tribe through the socio-historical lens of water dispossession; individual and community solutions to conflicts generated by water dispossession from the perspective of cultural resilience; and the BWC’s potential for promoting cultural revitalization and environmental sovereignty. To evaluate the potential of the BWC for the present and future Blackfeet community, it is necessary to, first, understand how Blackfeet people coped with water dispossession and, second, to assess the immediate and expected effects of the BWC on water use and management. The BWC has the potential for cultural revitalization. This dissertation research investigates the correlation between cultural resilience, water repatriation, and environmental sovereignty as interpreted through Indian Water Rights Law. For the Blackfeet, water is a cultural resource: it is central to the group's identity and philosophy as it sustains notions of being in the world, forms of knowledge acquisition and transfer, and social ordering schemes. A century of water development on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation has created physical and spiritual barriers to traditional water use and veneration, shifting the materiality of water from natural bodies of holy water to dams and irrigation canals. This research applies concepts from Indigenous philosophy, cultural resilience theory, historical trauma theory, decolonization theory, and Indian water rights law to fully assess the impact of government-mandated resource extraction on Blackfeet water rights and cultural reproduction. Pickering pursued multidisciplinary archival research and ethnographic fieldwork with tribal experts and water users to answer the following research questions: (1) How did water dispossession impact the traditional Blackfeet community? Moreover, (2) Can the BWC be used to revitalize Blackfeet cultural relationships to water while also providing opportunities for state-of-art water management and other needed developments? Research outcomes contribute to a new understanding of the interplay between environmental sovereignty and cultural resilience among the Blackfeet and Indigenous communities worldwide. The project goal is to interrogate Environmental Conflict Resolution through negotiation and settlement to highlight this case of environmental sovereignty that explicitly incorporates Blackfeet philosophical principles and practices to the use and management of water on their reservation.
Degree ProgramGraduate College