Uncertainty on Water Issues Following Supreme Court Decision

Oregon’s Tribal leaders are concerned about any possible implications from a recent Supreme Court decision on water access for native people.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the Navajo Nation, saying the federal government was not required to help secure water for their reservation.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued in the majority opinion that the Navajo treaty, signed in 1868, does not mean that there is an obligation for the United States government to assist the Tribe with sourcing or building infrastructure around water.

“In light of the treaty’s text and history, we conclude that the treaty does not require the United States to take those affirmative steps,” he wrote.

The Navajo reservation is the largest in the United States. It incorporates parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – some of the many states that utilize water from the Colorado River, a depleting source of water in a drought-stricken region.

Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented against the ruling, writing that the Navajo Tribal government did not ask the U.S. to give them water, but rather for an assessment of their water needs and a collaborative plan to achieve it.

The ancestral lands of several of Oregon’s Tribes are in counties that have experienced severe drought for multiple years.