by William Crum Published: December 20, 2016 12:00 AM CDT
With eyes on the Standing Rock community in their struggle to retain their control over their water supply throughout the past months, it was a pleasant signal that our government was still able to pass legislation that offered the regional protection over water rights to another Native American community. At Economic Democracy Advocates, we believe that water is an essential commons resource that should be protected. The article below from NewsOK gives us hope that even in tumultuous times in American politics, there is still the recognition that resources of the commons is something that needs to be continually protected. We hope to see more of this kind of legislation in the future.
President Barack Obama has signed the federal legislation that includes approval of the historic agreement giving tribes a role in managing southeastern Oklahoma water and securing future drinking water sources for Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma agreement settles legal challenges brought by the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes to protect their rights to water in all or parts of 22 counties comprising the nations’ traditional tribal territories.
The agreement was included in a bill, known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, that addresses water needs across the United States.
The Oklahoma agreement was among four Indian water rights settlements included in the measure. The others involved the Blackfeet tribe in Montana and tribes in California.
The president said the Indian water rights settlements “resolve long-standing claims to water and the conflicts surrounding those claims, address the needs of Native Communities, fulfill the Federal trust responsibility to American Indians, and provide a sound base for greater economic development for both the affected tribes and their non-Indian neighbors.”
Announced in August by the city of Oklahoma City, the state of Oklahoma, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, the Oklahoma agreement won final passage in the Senate on Dec. 10 and was signed by the president on Friday.
The requirement for congressional approval could have bogged the Oklahoma agreement down for months or even years.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, put the agreement on the fast track by inserting it into the water projects bill, which he had been working on for two years and which had broad support.
Inhofe, chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, eased its passage by clearing the language with the White House.
The broader bill authorizes water projects across the country to restore watersheds, improve waterways and flood control, and improve drinking water infrastructure, according to the president’s statement.