eNews May 2021

NM WRRI Hosts Workshop Focused on Building Water Capacity for Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations

NM WRRI Hosts Workshop Focused on Building Water Capacity for Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, over 150 people attended a virtual workshop hosted by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) focused on bringing together both Tribal and non-Tribal water resource managers, and researchers to further understand pressing tribal water issues and help to foster future research collaborations that will help build the capacity of Tribes, Nations, and Pueblos within New Mexico. The Workshop, Building Tribal Capacity with Water Research Partnerships, originated with NM WRRI’s 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, Common Water Sacred Water: Tribal perspectives on water issues in New Mexico. Through planning and reflection upon this conference, NM WRRI and the conference planning members recognized a broader need to continue engagement that would address tribal water challenges.

In touching on the workshop objectives in his welcome remarks, NM WRRI director, Sam Fernald, explained how planning this workshop had given him additional insight into the value of tribal perspectives and collaboration in water management. “On the subject of promoting water research that supports tribal capacity, I’ve started to see the ways that traditional knowledge can contribute to water research in New Mexico.” he said. “I think this improved research will better represent the hydrological diversity of New Mexico and improve water management.”

Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources hydrologist and workshop planning member, Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova, further emphasized the benefit of this workshop not only to the Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations, but also in promoting best practices for federal, state, and academic institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations seeking to work together with Tribal entities. “Perhaps you’re coming today thinking ‘I would like to partner with a Tribe Pueblo, or Nation to do water research, so what are their needs?’” she said. “It’s important to have communication in order to not only come with your research questions to the Tribe and say, ‘How does this benefit you?,’ but rather integrate the collaboration within the research questions that you’re asking.”

In the presentations that followed, University of Arizona PhD candidate, Nikki Tulley, shared an example of co-developed research for a drought severity evaluation tool for Navajo Nation. New Mexico State University’s Indian Resources Development staff gave an overview of the research scholarship and internship opportunities available through their office, and fellow workshop planning member and Tribal liaison for the Office of the State Engineer, Myron Armijo, offered useful lessons for communicating and engaging with Tribal nations learned through his professional experience. Rounding out the first half of the program was a thoughtful discussion of best practices for research collaborations moderated by State Representative, Derrick J. Lente.

As a brown bag lunch feature, Dr. Tulley-Cordova shared a documentary produced for the Navajo Safe Water project, highlighting efforts to help provide drinking and cooking water to residents of the Navajo Nation without piped water by installing transitional watering points and distributing water containers and disinfection tablets. You can view the video here, and learn more about Navajo Safe Water at their website.

In the afternoon portion of the program, breakout sessions allowed participants to further explore pressing Indigenous water issues, possible areas of future research, and discuss appropriate research methodologies. These topics included: universal access to clean water, research to inform Tribal Water Rights, environmental justice, data sharing and collaboration models that respect sovereignty and build trust, climate change impacts on water, and research to support the adoption and implementation of water quality standards. After reconvening and hearing summaries from each session, Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie of The University of New Mexico, who also helped in planning this workshop, reflected on the presentations and discussions of the day, highlighting the importance of community-lead research projects that co-produce knowledge, and meet the needs and protocols of Tribal communities. Dr. Tsinnajinnie ended by expressing that the dialogue of the workshop should continue, and that another event in the fall of 2021 would be forthcoming.

A video recording of the workshop general session can be viewed here.