November 2016

NATIVE PERSPECTIVES / Intersections of Water, Science and Indigenous Knowledge

Seth Roffman


Last month, Pueblo and tribal leaders, representatives from across Indian Country and climate researchers met at Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico for two days to discuss the intersections of water, science and indigenous knowledge.


Participants included Flower Hill Institute, Water is Life: A Tribal Partnership, West Water, South Central Climate Science Center, Louisiana State University, the University of Arizona and New Mexico State University. Attending were tribal representatives from the pueblos of Acoma, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Sandia, San Felipe, Santo Domingo and Zia, as well as from the Mescalero Apache Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Sac and Fox Tribe of Kansas, Mohawk Nation of New York, Fort Belknap Tribe of Montana and the Warm Springs Tribes of Oregon. The All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) were also represented.


Those attending were welcomed by Roger Fragua, executive director of Flower Hill Institute, a Jemez Pueblo-based organization that organizes discussions and initiatives related to art, agriculture, water and climate change issues as they relate to community economic development and preservation of American Indian cultures. Daryl Vigil of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, president of Water Is Life: A Tribal Partnership, gave an overview of his organization’s presentations to tribal organizations across the country. Water Is Life is being developed as a national tribal organization focused wholly on water issues. Brett Bovee of West Water gave an overview of tribal perspectives that were discussed at a water summit recently hosted by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes near Pocatello, Idaho.


Attendees at the workshop at Jemez Pueblo brought water from their respective communities that was blended and blessed in a ceremony by a traditional leader. That water was made available for the participants to take back to their communities to place back into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. The leader guiding the ceremony said those bodies of water “are like veins in our bodies carrying life.”


After the ceremony, there was an interactive conversation about traditional Native knowledge of climate change. It covered historical aspects of water dating to Chacoan times and other migrations that followed moisture—to more contemporary and manmade impacts on climate change. Other topics discussed included the intersection and clash of Native and non-Native values; traditions and science, technology and nature, precipitation and groundwater, synthetic vs. natural medicines, increasing populations and sustainability, elders and youth, harmony and confusion, and belief and trust.


The gathering elicited many stories as well as questions and challenges for the participants to ponder. Here are some of them: “Culture is our strength,” “Self-determination starts with me,” “Water is liquid gold,” “We are water,” “When corn dies, we die,” “Becoming culturally responsible,” “Educate our youth,” “Educate non-Indians,” “Balance traditional knowledge and science,” “Incorporate climate change education early and not as an afterthought,” “Climate change is affecting every tribe” and “Food Sovereignty.”


The scientific/technical side of the workshop featured information sharing and teaching on subjects such as Integrating Climate Policy, The Difference Between Climate and Weather, Climate Variability and Change, Weather Hazards, Water and Fire, Climate Prediction Center Products, Vulnerability Assessments, and more.


By the conclusion of the gathering, the attendees agreed to form a more formal regional coalition of Pueblos and tribes concerned with matters of water and the environment. A regional strategy session was scheduled to respond to the BIA’s “Call for Proposals: Gathering Input from Tribal Communities to Shape the Next (4th) National Climate Assessment,” due by Dec. 2. The National Climate Assessment is an ongoing project of the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program.


To learn more about this initiative call 720.220.7720.



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