August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

VIDEO UN Indigenous Permanent Forum: The Right to Water

The Right to Water and Indigenous Peoples 
UNPFII 10th Session 16-27 May 2011
American Indian Law Alliance 11 Broadway, 2nd Floor New York, NY 10004 Email:
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
10th Session 16-27 May 2011, United Nations Headquarters, New York
Submitted by Ms. Tonya Gonnella Frichner of the American Indian Law Alliance in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council with Ms. Tia Oros Peters, Executive Director, Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development.

Protection of Water

1. For the last six years our organizations and co-signatories have addressed the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on the Protection of Water as a human right, and we are honored to do so again under this agenda item. We call for the recognition of Water as essential to Life; that it is crucial for bio-cultural diversity and for sustaining all aspects of Indigenous Peoples’ survival and well-being, assuring our physical health, nurturing us spiritually and central for the continued vitality of our cultures and traditional livelihoods.

2. We recognize Water is the most vulnerable element of all forms of Life in light of climate change and its impacts, and coupled with the encroachment of invasive development – the terracide – damaging Indigenous homelands and ecosystems, and the aquacide – the killing of our waters. Time is of the essence. We must take action now as some places are flooded and others stricken with drought. We urgently reiterate the critical significance of protecting Water sources and Indigenous Peoples’ full, unencumbered access to clean Water on our territories for physical, cultural and spiritual sustenance, and advance these recommendations.


...22. For example, in the high desert, arid southwestern region of the United States, the Zuni River is critical to the physical and spiritual sustenance of the A:shiwi/Zuni people. During the Fourth and Fifth Permanent Forum Sessions (2005 and 2006), we shared with Forum members the unique characteristics of the river as a sacred waterway, an umbilical cord linking Zuni people with a spiritual destiny, carrying prayers and offerings to Zuni Heaven, a final everlasting place. When it flowed freely, the River fed streams and springs that nurtured thousands of acres of corn, beans, and squash fields that were cultivated and sustained the people, and supported an abundance of wildlife, which is necessary to nourish Zuni cultural sustenance and a rich ceremonial life. In the 1890’s the River was dammed and diverted by the Ramah Cattle Company empowering Mormon missionaries upstream, altering the natural flow and life of the waterway. Today, what was once a vibrant, moving waterway that sustained thousands of people, animals, plant and water-dependent species has been drained, leaving only a dry riverbed where a vital river once flowed. 1982 was the last time the Zuni River flowed through the village since the Ramah Dam was built. Now our land is always thirsty.

23. And on the same Indigenous territory, a sacred site known as Zuni Salt Lake, has been targeted for coal and methane gas development. Salt in an arid environment is critical to the Peoples’ survival. For the A:shiwi, this is also the dwelling place of a spiritual mother. It is also a place of peace for neighboring tribes to ceremoniously gather salt. The exploitation threatening Zuni Salt Lake would siphon millions of gallons of pristine water from beneath the lake for the mining, and create persistent toxins and contaminants that would forever alter the integrity and home of Salt Mother, as and the well-being of the Zuni and other tribal Nations in the region culturally and nutritionally reliant on Zuni Salt Lake.

24. This is just one region of the Indigenous world. We know that in too many places a polluted stream is our only source of Water. In too many places, our peoples are struck down by waterborne and vector borne disease, due to the lack of accessible, clean water on our territories caused by diversion and contamination, and the impacts of Climate Change. We hunger and can no longer plant our gardens, not because we have forgotten how to nurture life from a seed, but because without access to Water, our crops cannot flourish, and we cannot thrive without them. Our Water ceremonies are dying and our songs for the Water no longer fill the air.

25. Brothers and sisters of the world, are we prepared for what will happen when the world grows dry and quiet? What were once rich landscapes awake with forests and gardens, rivers and cornfields, alive with animals and birds, and a harmonious biodiversity of Indigenous cultures, are quickly becoming parched lands which only our tears can soften. Soon, even our most lush lands will be barren. Soon, even our tears will dry up and we will only have blood in our eyes as the wars for oil quickly transform into Water Wars that shroud the globe in a clash which humanity cannot survive. The Earth will burn. Too many of us are already dying of thirst. Our children, and the generations to come, will inherit this conflict and it is for them that we call upon the Permanent Forum and offer this intervention, for the Water – the essence of Life, for world peace.

Elahkwa – thank you.
Go to the web address below for a full copy of the statement:

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