Tribes Celebrate Vision for Protecting the Colorado River

“The Colorado River is sacred, water is life, the peoples are the keepers of the River, and we take full responsibility to care for the River.” So begins the vision of five Tribes that live and rely on the Colorado River and have united to protect its cultural and ecological resources. Envision a Colorado River with habitat being actively restored and conserved by the tribes that have an innate bond and ownership of the land, water, and wildlife.

Tribal youth “mud” a traditional tribal structure. Photo by Garrit Voggesser

The Tribes recently gathered on the Cocopah Reservation in Southwest Arizona, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, to affirm and celebrate this vision with a Water Blessing Ceremony. The cultural area where they gathered was blessed with water from rivers around the U.S. and the world. The tribal members shared their passion and commitment to protect the River for future generations. This pledge was reinforced by the fact that many of those gathered were tribal youth, the future conservation leaders.

The tribal communities adjacent to the Colorado River recognize both a cultural and environmental need to ensure protection of the habitat, wildlife, water and plant life on their lands. Tribes have witnessed the damming, development, and over-allocation of the river in the last century. They see the devastating impacts on fish, wildlife, and plants.

Tribal youth "mud" a traditional tribal structure. Photo by Garrit Voggesser
Tribal youth “mud” a traditional tribal structure. Photo by Garrit Voggesser

The tribal communities are experiencing first-hand the impacts of climate change on the River. The Tribes engaged in this effort rely on the natural landscape for both physical and spiritual nourishment, as they have for hundreds of years.

Fundamental to this effort is the understanding of the strong connection between people and places, and that those connections are vital to protecting the natural world. Their vision for the Colorado River can have a substantial impact on the future of the river and the tribal peoples that depend on it. The National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Partnerships Program has worked with the Tribes for over a decade because we share their vision, values, and commitment to the River.

There are many threats to the Colorado River: climate change, resource depletion, over-allocation, and contamination. As a result, those that depend on the River – wildlife, plants, tribes, farmers, and communities – are suffering. The Tribes are united in stating that this “trajectory of increasing anguish must be changed.” They call upon others to join them in this commitment.

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