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New institute will provide resources to tribal nations on water rights

Rio Grande
Rio Grande

A new water institute will help provide resources and training opportunities to tribal nations to advocate for their own water rights.

The Tribal Water Institute was launched by the Native American Rights Fund, based in Colorado, and the Walton Family Foundation, which will be making a three-year, $1.4 million commitment.

“Water is one of those critical components to developing and securing a healthy community,” said David Gover.

David Gover is Pawnee and Choctaw and a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. He said identifying a tribal community's needs when tackling water rights is essential.

“It's one of those questions that tribal leaders have to ask themselves,” he said. “What kind of resources do we have? And what kind of effort can we put forth to defend and protect and assert one of those treaty-based resources.”

Through this partnership, the Native American Rights Fund will be able to double its current staff and take on more casework while also building a pipeline of new leaders to develop research and policy proposals.

Gover said it’s important to educate political leaders inside and outside Native communities on tribal rights.

“If you're not at the table, you're on the menu,” he said. “Do they have the information? And then do they have the resources? You know, as I mentioned, lots of these cases can take decades. It just is really time-consuming and resource intensive.”

The Tribal Water Institute will fund a fellowship program for five recent law school graduates to train on water rights issues so they can serve in Native communities. That will include conducting listening sessions to understand community needs.

Gover said that it’s hard to find water rights attorneys, so to be able to train up-and-coming attorneys to fill that need is what the Native American Rights Fund would like to see.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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