Springs on the Colorado Plateau
Recommendations from the Multi-Cultural Workshop on
Protecting and Restoring the Natural and Cultural Value of
Springs and Wetlands on the Colorado Plateau
In March of 2002, Northern Arizona University’s Center
for Sustainable Environments hosted a retreat for Native American
tribal leaders, natural resource managers, elders and graduate
students to discuss protecting the cultural and natural resources
associated with freshwater springs in Indian country. This listing of
recommendations serves to outline possible next-steps in the crusade
to conserve and restore water sources.
Among others represented in the workshop were the White
Mountain Apache Watershed Program, Hopi Natural Resources, Yavapai
Apache Tribe, Kaibab-Paiute Tribe, Verde Valley Research and
Education, Graduate students from NAU, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council,
Glen Canyon Institute, Sierra Club, and the Environmental Protection
Agency. Attendees spoke from their particular cultural perspective,
and personal experience, highlighting success stories to inspire
We should form a multi-cultural
consortium of scientists and other professionals to ensure that
springs remain protected from new and impending threats, rather than
having to invest in costly restoration after damage has been done.
We should foster and ensure funding
for reciprocal exchanges among professionals from various cultures
who inventory, monitor and restore springs and wetlands, to promote
cross-training in the use of comparable methods for inventory and
monitoring, and to advance the best practices for habitat
restoration and invasive species control.
We should adopt as policy the
National Council for Science and Environment recommendation that
indigenous peoples’ values be integrated into science to sustain the
environment by recognizing that:
Indigenous peoples have pioneered
alternative ways of protecting habitats and their wildlife; and
Indigenous science and values should
carry the same weight and importance as Western academic science in
decision-making to promote the best available stewardship practices
for springs and wetlands.
should adopt as our mission the fostering of partnerships between
scientists and community elders who maintain the traditional
ecological knowledge of their cultures about springs, wetlands,
wildlife and agriculture.
We should adopt as our public service
to communities our role in bridging the current information between
technically-oriented professionals and the communities who depend
upon springs and wetlands in their everyday lives. We should make it
a practice that technical information is translated into
comprehensible terms accessible to community members, and that they
participate in public hearings.
We should ensure that springs and
wetlands are used as sites for environmental education, and that our
programs offer internship opportunities for young tribal members to
be exposed to careers in conservation and agricultural sciences.
We should use a diversity of means
and media to inform communities about actions and threats
potentially affecting springs and water supplies, and to get their
perspectives on management of these habitats and resources, making
sure that governments heed their mandate to ensure consultation with
communities, even when it requires that it be done in native
We should develop a watch-list of
culturally sensitive plant and animal species associated with spring
and wetland habitats across the Colorado Plateau which one or more
tribes require for the persistence of their traditions protected
under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. These warrior
species can be used to protect their habitats if we collectively
affirm that we have zero tolerance for their loss (due to
groundwater pumping or land degradation) from any traditional
cultural property on reservation or off reservation on public lands.
We should attempt to obtain a federal
designation of the springs associated with the N-aquifer or the
aquifer itself as a traditional cultural property, and as a national
natural or historic landmark, then evaluate these possible means of
legal protection for other traditional cultural waterscapes.
We should develop among tribal
programs, universities, agencies and non-profits a database of
plants and wildlife associated with springs and wetlands across the
Plateau, listing sources of plant materials available for
We should establish an intertribal
exchange of wild and cultivated plant materials needed for the
restoration of wetlands, spring-fed orchards and fields, and protect
these from patenting or commercial exploitation by outside
We should establish an intertribal
SWAT team that, by advance invitation, can assist tribal programs
with special techniques for removing invasive species such as
Russian olive and tamarisks that reduce the flow of springs;
non-herbicidal methods should be promoted.
We should encourage all tribal
Natural Resource, Forestry, Wetlands and Wildlife Departments to
frequently consult with cultural resource advisory teams before
taking any actions affecting sacred springs or other cultural
We should encourage more frequent
dialogue among multi-cultural non-profit groups involved in
environmental justice issues, and tribal programs, so that
information is exchanged and tribal policies are understood; for
example, the Hopi tribal government has already set as a policy goal
the termination of N-aquifer use in coal transfers.
We should encourage tribal interns
and students to tape and write down oral histories of springs of
particular cultural and historic significance to their communities,
and to record all place names and locations of such springs for
incorporation into in land and water use planning or cultural
resources protection. Many locations of springs are not currently
entered into tribal or USGS geographic information systems, but
should be mapped for tribal use only.
should develop a listserve of all workshop participants to post
requests for proposals from foundations and agencies that might fund
springs protection and restoration and establish a directory of
sources of financial, technical and plant propagation support.
hanging gardens, and wetlands may also be important to rare resident
animals such as snails, or migrants such as Willow flycatchers.
culturally utilized plants can be harvested in spring and wetland
habitats on reservations, but nowhere else nearby Indian villages.
Should access to these plants be essential for the maintenance of
ceremonial or spiritual obligations, their loss due to groundwater
pumping nearby can be legally dealt with through the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act. Degradation of gathering areas where sacred
plants, stones, and other natural materials were traditionally
collected is in violation of AIRFA, since it disrupts the “inherent
right of Native Americans to believe, express and exercise the