Traditional knowledge systems and tribal water governance on Fort Peck Indian Reservation, MT

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The Fort Peck Indian Reservation is located in northeast Montana and is home to the Assiniboine (Nakona) and Sioux (Dakota) Tribes. Conventional oil and gas development and the disposal of produced water has led to the contamination of 15-37 billion gallons of groundwater within the aquifer that had historically been the only source of drinking water for reservation community members. Although the tribes are aware of the contamination plume, exploiting newly accessible shale resources has become a viable option as the tribes continue to try to alleviate the high unemployment and poverty rates of tribal members. Even so, tribal members and authorities also understand the importance of ecological health in fostering a healthy community. A strong movement of cultural resurgence has been in motion, with tribal members looking to traditional stories and lessons in order to guide the future of the community and create community cohesion. Traditional knowledge systems (TKS) have been heralded throughout contemporary Indigenous governance literature as an important dynamic resource for indigenous communities that deal with difficult decisions involving resource management. Using a TKS framework and interviews with tribal members, this research seeks to answer the following questions: 1) What are the TKS that surrounds water and its use for the Nakona and Dakota tribes? 2) What are some of the opportunities and barriers that exist for the successful incorporation of TKS into tribal water governance structures at Fort Peck? Challenges to validity, process, and relevance due to political histories and power imbalances, as well as diverse intertribal knowledge systems, may impede the successful integration of Indigenous knowledge in collaborative water governance initiatives with outside interests. The internal knowledge sharing process has the potential to enhance cultural revitalization efforts on the reservation -- which represent an organic solution that takes place from within the community itself. In addition, TKS-based tribal policies may uphold the expression of tribal self-determination, i.e. the 'governance-value' of traditional knowledge systems.




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