Environmental Discourse and Cultural Contradiction: Implications for Watershed Management on the Kaibab Paiute Reservation
Peter K. New Award Winner, 2002
While Indian tribes are encouraged to pursue tribal autonomy, particularly in managing natural resources on reservations, that undertaking is often overwhelming for small tribes. Using the case study of watershed management on the reservation of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians in northern Arizona, this paper challenges the notion that tribal autonomy, or even legal authority, are necessarily the most effective means for securing control of natural resources.
First, I locate the watershed management attempts of the Kaibab reservation in the historical and contemporary context of water issues in the Southwest. While water is always a volatile issue in the Southwest, current over-allocation of water rights, artificial separations between surface and groundwater, and unwieldy bureaucracy have created a near-incomprehensible labyrinth for tribes seeking to manage their water resources.
Next, I address water management on the local level of the Kaibab Paiute reservation. Using the linguistic methodology of critical discourse analysis, I examine how the three major stakeholder groups in the regionscientists, Mormans, and the Kaibab Paiutesarticulate views of the environment in forums of public discourse. These discourses, I propose, reflect variable understandings of the natural world in general, and water in particular. However, these competing worldviews are abstractions only; they do not exist in bounded isolation, but are consistently challenged and adapted at an individual level. Not only must Kaibab managers address water issues within a difficult historical and institutional environment, but in a social environment where fundamental disagreements exist regarding the relationship between humans and nature.
I conclude that the Kaibab Paiutes, with a history of enforced inclusion in both Mormon and scientific communities, are better positioned to work with the various stakeholders than anyone else. Their strength regarding resource management, I argue, lies not in autonomy, but in connectivity.
Ms. Erin Dean is a PhD student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Renewable Natural Resource Management. She has also been a research assistant for the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology for the past four years, working predominantly on environmental anthropology projects in the Southwest