June 9-12, 2008
Hyatt Regency Tamaya -- Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico


One hundred years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Winters v. United States giving Native Americans a right to water on their reservations, there is not enough water to fulfill the promise of Winters. Many Indian water rights cases have not been settled and more have not yet been filed. Further, the federal funds that have been an important part of past successful settlements are not being made available even for pending cases. This symposium will provide a history of the Winters case, take a hard look at the current state of the doctrine, and support a dialogue to foster fair and equitable resolution of pending and future claims.

On January 6, 1908, the United States Supreme Court resolved a water lawsuit in the remote, northern reaches of Montana between the Indian Service (on behalf of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation) and upstream irrigators along the Milk River. Few people at the time expected that the case would have such long-term important consequences for Indian tribes and the development of the American West.

The year 2008 marks the centennial of Winters v. United States, in which the Court formulated the reserved water rights doctrine now broadly asserted by Indian tribes and federal agencies. The decision, because of its enduring promise of justice to Native Americans, marks one of the great achievements of American jurisprudence.  The decision made possible the continuity of many Indian communities and non-Indian communities alike, along with the protection of important environmental resources. Now, one hundred years later, the question is whether the promise of Winters will be fulfilled. In celebration of the Winters Centennial, the Utton Transboundary Resources Center and the American Indian Law Center will convene a major symposium in June 2008 along the waters of the Rio Grande near Albuquerque. The symposium will review the legal and cultural history of the decision, assess the contemporary consequences of the reserved water rights doctrine (both nationally and internationally), and project the significance of Indian water rights into the 21 st Century. The goal of the symposium is to assemble Indian reserved rights policy makers and decision makers at all levels in order to deepen the understanding of the effect of Winters and to advance the dialogue regarding the future role of reserved rights.

The Utton Center and American Indian Law Center invite co-sponsorships and financial support of the Winters Centennial.


The Winters Centennial will revisit the origins of this momentous Supreme Court decision through an examination of its historical, legal, and geographic context.  The program will assess how the decision has influenced both the allocation of water and the development of policies toward indigenous people, both in America and internationally.  The program will also address the role that Indian water rights has and will likely play in the future of Indian and non-Indian communities in the United States and how the doctrine will be applied when water is in short supply.

While the program celebrates the Winters decision, the program will also critically examine how the doctrine has been applied and its prospects in an era vastly different from 1908.


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