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Voices of Water: John Echohawk

Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, John Echohawk

Blog photo echohawk IMG_0873 AS© Blue Legacy/Ali Sanderson

Now that we’ve finally wrapped up production in the headwater’s region of the Colorado River, we’re sorting through the rich bounty of all the stories we’ve gathered and the voices we’ve heard.

One such voice that still rings loud in our ears is that of John Echohawk, veteran Native American rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) based in Boulder, Colorado.

We first met Echohawk at the NARF offices in Boulder, Colorado on Wednesday July 9th. He ushered us into a cozy conference room, the walls of which were covered with photos of Echohawk and political powerhouses like President Clinton and President Carter.

There are over 300 tribes in the lower 48 states alone. “We’re one of the players in this whole struggle over the future of the Colorado river,” Echohawk said. “If we treat water simply as a resource that comes out of our taps it’s a loss for our community.”

“The western United States is an arid area and unless you have rights to water you're not going to survive out here,” Echohawk said.

“We all knew it was essential for life,” he explained. “It's sacred; it has to be protected and that same understanding leads our tribal leaders to prioritize fights over water rights.”

Later that week, Echohawk joined Alexandra and the production crew in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. The pair stood just off the Ute trail, on traditional Ute tribal territory (the Ute people were relocated to reservations in southwestern Colorado; in 1988 with the NARF’s help, the Ute won water rights on tributaries that flow into the Colorado). The Never Summer mountains, where the Colorado River is born, rose in the background.