Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Tom Hesse). Here’s an excerpt:
Lorelei Cloud joined the Colorado Water Conservation Board in March as the first tribal council member to serve in the position. Cloud, the vice chair of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, was appointed to the position by Gov. Jared Polis. She joins the board at a critical time for water not just in Colorado, but across the American West. As the representative for the San Miguel-Dolores-San Juan drainage basin, she represents land that covers not just the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute reservations, but also 10 counties in southwestern Colorado. She spoke to Colorado Matters about including Indigenous voices in water discussions and the challenges ahead for the Colorado River…
Historically, tribes have been left out of the process of negotiating these Colorado River issues. Do you feel that’s going to be different this time around?
I’m hopeful that we are going to be included in those conversations. There has been a lot of effort going forward historically in making sure that tribes are included in those broader conversations. There currently is still no formal written document or no formal process for tribes to be included in those conversations. The Colorado River Compact was created in 1922. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans became citizens of this country. And so with that and our tribal history, I think that plays a big part in why we were not part of those conversations at the very beginning. And so now, being included in those conversations is going to be critical. And, because we know that we are sovereigns — and for the federal government and the Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Commission to recognize tribes as sovereigns — and having those government-to-government discussions when it comes to water, I think is critical.
Last fall, we learned that Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming for the first time began formal negotiations with tribal governments over water. How is this going to affect the broader water conversation now that tribes are formally being brought into discussions that they’ve so long been left out of?
I think it’s going to have a positive impact. You know, when we talk about these state officials finally having conversations with tribes, again, it’s been historical. We’ve been meeting with the Upper Colorado River Commission. They’re the commissioners from each one of those states and the six tribes in the upper basin. We’ve had some really good conversations, but we’ve had to get through a lot of tough conversations to get to that point. And I think that since these state officials were still willing to take that on, we’re going to make a really big impact for the Colorado River Basin, not just for the upper basin because it shows that there are four states that are willing and able to work with tribes in their respective areas.
And I’m hoping that creates leeway for other tribes, other states, particularly in the lower basin, to find ways to work together and have positive outcomes. Again, I think it’s going to be a positive outcome when you stand together as a group, as a collective, even though you may not see eye to eye or agree with decisions or the understanding of where somebody is coming from. If you can put that aside and create the trust that’s very much needed, we can do just about anything. And I think we all have the same mind frame of protecting the river and making sure that all of the water users have the water that they need.