Osage Nation Hosts DOI Water Rights Assessment Team in Defense of Water Sovereignty

Department of the Interior and Osage Nation water rights teams tour Osage Nation’s Harvest Land as part of a two-day tour. (Courtesy Wahzhazhe Communications)

PAWHUSKA, OK – The Osage Nation hosted a Department of the Interior water rights assessment team in order to help the U.S. better understand the nature and extent of the Nation’s water rights claims in Osage territory. The focus of the visit was to provide the federal team an “on the ground” understanding of the Osage Nation’s claims arising from treaties between the Osage Nation and the U.S., the purchase of the territory from the Cherokee Nation in 1872, as well as the 1906 Act. The Nation took the opportunity to demonstrate the agricultural, commercial and industrial needs of the Nation as well as the concrete steps the Nation has made in protecting its water rights. These steps include:

  • The preparation of an in–depth engineering analysis of the Nation’s current and future water needs and the sources of water to supply those needs
  • Negotiating valuable capacity in the Enid pipeline to deliver water to the Nation at a future date
  • Limiting the ability to export water from the Arkansas River basin in order to protect the Nation’s claims

The Osage Nation’s water rights are key to the Nation’s sovereignty and the future of its members. In 2017, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office sent the Osage Nation a cease and desist letter in regards to a water well permit granted by the Osage Nation’s Environmental and Natural Resources Department. At the time, Osage County rancher Ford Drummond was Chair of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The Osage Nation Water Rights Team responded with urgency to the attack, which goes to the heart of tribal sovereignty. The Osage Nation Water Rights Team includes expert water attorneys, the Office of the Osage Attorney General, engineers with decades of tribal water settlement knowledge, and key members of the Osage Nation Department of Natural Resources. The Water Rights Team has been diligently and methodically developing the best strategy to protect the Nation’s water rights. As the fight for water rights recognition continues to grow, so will the Water Rights Team to include members from all branches of Osage Nation government. The team will continue to carefully defend water rights throughout Osage Nation territory. 

“Our water rights are under attack,” said Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. “We will continue to defend ourselves. This is our water and we will protect it.”

During the tour, Osage Nation Attorney General Clint Patterson and the Osage Nation Water Rights Team showed the federal assessment team the key communities, resources and economic activities that bear on the Osage Nation’s water rights claim including Kaw Lake, the Arkansas River, the Osage Nation Ranch, Harvest Land, and the Osage Nation Villages. Each area has its own water needs, including usage, systems, and discharge – all of which are imperative to the Nation’s overall water plan. 

Attorney General Patterson, who is tasked with upholding the Constitutional duty to preserve the Osage Nation’s water resources, led the tour along with the Osage Nation Water Rights Team.

“The Osage Nation has full authority over the Nation’s natural resources,” said Attorney General Patterson. “Our water rights are backed by treaties and supported by well-settled water law. We appreciate  the federal assessment team’s focus on our water rights and visit to the Osage Nation Reservation to better understand our issues as we work together to address  the Nation’s claims.”