by Stuart Leiberman, Environmental Attorney
In this age of global droughts, most Americans still seem to take water for granted. However, this can’t be said of people who live in Wyoming. For over one hundred years, Wyoming has been involved in an internal strife concerning water rights. It is a battle between Native Americans and farmers, who are referred to as “irrigationists.”
This fight over water is the focus of Wind River. Wind River casts this entire dispute in very human terms, featuring interviews with various Tribe spokespeople, a sometimes maligned State Engineer whose job is to issue water diversion permits, farmers and a state Supreme Court Justice.
While a 1985 court decision may have brought this matter to a legal conclusion, Wind River reveals that the deeply rooted fears and emotions concerning water usage cannot simply be erased with a Judge’s gavel. That Court decision held that an Indian tribe did not have a right to continuous river flow because the tribe was not using the waters for agricultural purposes.
We learn from Wind River that water can do more than quench our thirsts, it can also separate the haves from the have-nots. Wind River tells a compelling story that extends far beyond questions of water rights, examining core community values and concerns relating to human dignity, self-survival and fundamental fairness.