What can be more sacred than drinkable water?





Indian water settlements


Indian Water Rights Settlements

Charles V. Stern

Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

September 18, 2015

Congressional Research Service





“Indian water rights are vested property rights and resources for which the United States has a trust responsibility. The federal trust responsibility is a legal obligation of the United States dictating that the federal government must protect Indian resources and assets and manage them in the Indians’ best interest.” 1


“The specifics of Indian water rights claims vary, but typically these claims arise out of the right of many tribes to water resources dating to the establishment of their reservations.” 2


“Over the past six years, since Republicans took control of the House, Congress has failed to fund a single Indian water settlement- despite numerous settlement bills being introduced.”  3


“I’m tired, an exhaustion I can’t sleep away,” said Prairie McLaughlin, a 33-year-old protester, sitting inside the teepee in which she has been camping. She said that despite the brutality she and others have faced from local police, “I feel like failure is not an option.” 4



For more information on the United States’ relationship with Indian tribes, see CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG253, The

United States Relationship with Indian Tribes and Federal Indian Policy, by Jane M. Smith.


Separately, some tribes also have time immemorial rights to water resources based on tribal water uses that preceded the establishment of reservations.