Vi Waln: Lakota people encounter threats to their water source
I believe we are in a time of great tribulation. It seems there is a mad scramble to rush the death of Unci Maka. I have read stories in the news about an oilfield to be built near our sacred Mato Paha. Some of the argument revolves around our need for oil and how we should seek the reserves underneath us instead of importing oil. Now that is a valid argument because we all have to drive our cars, right? Still, I am not comfortable with the thought of an oil field within two miles of the site where I offer my solstice and equinox prayers.

Another item in the news is uranium mining. This has been happening for awhile now both here in the He Sapa and in the Southwest on our Diné relatives’ land. In my opinion, the only reason uranium is being mined is because it is a metal used for war. The more uranium mined by the powers that be, the bigger and more dangerous weapons can be manufactured. Uranium is very radioactive. It seems like the dominant mindset nowadays is to kill. Think about it: we are killing our Ina to make weapons to kill each other, which seems really stupid to me.

I am thankful every day of my life for water. Ask any Lakota person who has participated in the sun dance ceremony how sacred water actually is to the earth and the human race. The sun dance people suffer the pain of sacrificing the sacred gift of water in order to pray for the people. I hear lots of people use the phrase “Mni Wiconi.” I often wonder if they really understand what that phrase means. Oh it is translated into “water of life” but I truly believe many people do not understand that without water there would be no life.

Our own pipeline here on the both the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations is named the Mni Wiconi Rural Water system. This project has seen hundreds of miles of pipe laid into the earth so our people could have water. Most all of us now living on the reservation are drinking water that has been altered with chemicals. The ground water is treated with chlorine only. The river water is treated with chloramines, which is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia.

The Pine Ridge Reservation has already experienced the effects of radioactive contaminated water. This is the direct result of uranium mining in He Sapa. Several activist groups have worked hard to stop the mining, but oftentimes the almighty dollar along with the fact that man always has to have his war have prevailed over the basic human need for unpolluted Mni Wiconi.

For example, a public hearing was held last summer by the “Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality regarding a proposal to exempt a portion of the Chadron Aquifer north of Crawford. This portion of the aquifer is associated with a proposed expansion area for the Crow Butte Resources (CBR) uranium mining facility. The proposed exemption would prevent that designated area of the aquifer from being used as a drinking water source in the future.”

Exempting an area of the aquifer from being used for drinking water is unacceptable. Quite simply, we don’t really know where all the underground water runs. All the studies in the world will never convince me that the water doesn’t all run together at some point underneath us. The march to pull uranium out of Unci Maka is poisoning us. What kind of world are we creating for our descendants? Our unborn generations have rights and deserve to have clean water to drink.

Another thing which alarms me is the fact that the Navajo Tribal Council recently voted 51-24 to accept a water settlement regarding the Colorado River. With their vote they have basically quantified their water rights. I bet their action will have repercussions in all of Indian Country. The powers that be will surely use the example set by their tribal council to work on other tribes to vote in favor of quantifying our water.

In response to the vote, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Hope Macdonald Lonetree stated: “I am saddened by the passage of this legislation…it is wrong to connect the need for waterlines with any irreversible waiver of our water rights. There is no funding for these proposed pipelines. Yet we just agreed to give away our water to all the coyotes who have been stealing it from our people and Nation for years. As far as I’m concerned all the waters that flow off and within the Four Sacred Mountains is ours. We should never shortchange our future generations by leaving them no tools for survival.”

Furthermore, the “Northeast Arizona Water Settlement recently approved by the Navajo Nation Council is another concern of the elders. ‘They signed away the coal, and now they've signed away our water,’ said one, speaking in Navajo. ‘We have no leaders these days, just people who betray us for money,’ Evelyn Samuelson said. She's concerned not just that the Diné will have enough water in the future, but whether the long legal document will have some kind of power over the water's spirit. ‘The water rights are all tangled up like a spider web,’ she said, illustrating by crossing her gnarled fingers over each other. ‘They've mixed up the male and female water. I don't know how Mother Nature's going to react.’

Many of our Lakota people pray with water every morning. We pray for our elected tribal leaders to fully understand the phrase “Mni Wiconi.” We pray for our elected leaders to resist the push to quantify our water rights. The Treaty of 1868 states we own the east bank of the Missouri River, there is nothing more to quantify concerning our water rights as Lakota people. We cannot allow ourselves to be pressured into accepting a bogus water settlement. Mni Wiconi lila wakan!

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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