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Clear Waters

Research Aims to Better Understand Tribal Conceptions of Time and Space to Improve Water Governance

Water quality planning involves multiple agencies and governments, spans decades, and varies across political boundaries. To many Native American tribes, the scope is not near large enough. As one Northwest tribal leader told a forest supervisor, the decisions made now on water quality would affect his tribe for the next 1,000 years.

“Many tribes see far vaster expanses of time,” said Teresa Cohn, a CNR research scientist based in McCall. “They may be thinking about many generations of managing water.”

“The goal is to better understand how water quality is perceived, and how fundamentally different world views can impact water governance,”Teresa Cohn, Research Scientist based at the McCall Field Campus

Cohn is leading a National Science Foundation-funded project to better understand tribal conceptions of time and space as they relate to water quality governance. The goal is to create a process that better incorporates tribal participation and perspectives in water quality plans across the country.

The project involves two very different landscapes, locations and people. In Nevada, the team will work collaboratively with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe which is deeply connected with Pyramid Lake, a terminal basin fed by rivers and streams from Lake Tahoe in California and the city of Reno, Nevada.

The other half of the project focuses on the sprawling network of waterways found on over 13 million acres of aboriginal territory that the Nez Perce Tribe has occupied and used since time immemorial, which now comprises north-central Idaho, southeast Washington, northeast Oregon, and parts of Montana.

In the two areas, faculty are working with graduate students who are also tribal members. The first phase is a survey of tribal members to identify areas of water quality interest followed by a participatory mapping process, using GIS and community input.

“The goal is to better understand how water quality is perceived, and how fundamentally different world views can impact water governance,” said Cohn.

Article by Sara Zaske, College of Natural Resources.

Photo Credit: Alicia Helfrick

Published in Winter 2018-19 issue of Celebrating Natural Resources

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