Tackling Water Insecurity in Tribal Communities
Do you take clean water for granted? If we asked the average person on any given day, they would say ‘no’. This is largely because most Americans do not have a water issue; however, that is not the case for Indian Country. Most Americans do not have to think about where the water to cook, drink, do laundry, bathe, water plants, animals or livestock comes from. Access to clean water is a basic human right, and yet, up to 48% of households on Native American reservations do not have this precious resource. For many Native people, this means traveling many miles just to access water and haul it to their home.
More recently, the Water is Life movement, or mni wiconi, brought the importance of water to the forefront. There have been legal challenges, protests and social movements around the use of water for decades. Water is sacred and growing in scarcity, which will continue to be a concern.
Heather Tanana (Diné), a research professor with the University of Utah law school’s Stegner Center and a member of the Navajo Nation Bar, noted in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that only one in every three Navajo homes has running water. In eastern Arizona, 75% of people on the Hopi Reservation rely on water that is contaminated with excessive levels of arsenic. Drought, competition and decades-long water litigation are adding to the challenge.
Living without water access is hard. People are forced to deal with the time, effort, inconvenience and added cost of hauling water for use at home. They have to think about their water needs in advance – and then ration it so they don’t run out at an inopportune time. Imagine trying to drink your 64 ounces of water every day under these conditions.
Native families without running water also face the risk associated with using rainwater. In addition, the lack of clean water is also directly linked to the COVID-19 fatalities across Indigenous communities, especially for the Navajo.
Living without ready access to water is unacceptable and only highlights the core inequities and systemic racism that still exists in this country. A 2019 report on EPA data called “Watered Down Justice” confirmed there is unequal access to safe drinking water, and this affects communities of color the most. In Feb. of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that “tribes have right to as much water as they need to establish a permanent homeland, and those rights stretch back at least as long as any given reservation has existed.”
In honor of National Hydration Day on June 23, we encourage you to learn more about water insecurity and to hold government officials accountable for providing this basic human right to all Americans.