• April 24th, 2024
  • Wednesday, 08:08:10 PM

River Sister’s Call to Action

Left-right: Solicia E. López, Irene Vilar, and Jorge Figueroa spoke at the River Sister’s Congreso in Denver, Colorado. (Photo: Karen Gutiérrez/El Semanario)


Daniel Stange de Acatl

Posted March 28, 2024



Daniel Stange de Acatl

Colorado is a very strategic location when it comes to water access and rights. We have a very antiquated rule about water rights so that the first person that claimed land was given the first right over how that water was distributed. Of course, this had NO consideration for the Native People that were here first. Yet the Federal courts did award the Southern Ute nation a settlement in 1988 because their treaty had some good language to ensure that they could access the water on their reservation.


Over the last century the work of civil engineers and major water projects have made some serious changes to the natural distribution of our river systems. Reservoirs have transformed the work that beavers previously did and tunnels across the mountains diverted millions of gallons yearly from the west to the eastern plains for the large industrial famers in more than a dozen transmountain water diversions. The result of these projects led to the erasure of the Colorado River Delta that flowed into the gulf of Baja California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.


The Hoover Dam in the 1930’s was the first big projects that stopped the flow of the river for six years as it filled Lake Mead and then again with other locations like Lake Powell. The result of these projects devastated the birds, animals and human populations that had survived in the Delta area that once covered almost two million acres of land. Early explorers wrote about the abundance of animals including jaguars and the native people called Cucapa’ (people of the river) numbered in the thousands. As usual, the result of human intervention allowed the Sonoran Desert to encroach upon the once fertile lands and most of the area dried up.


As far back as 1974, the Mexican Government listed the area as a reserve zone and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO—finally had the site designated as a Biosphere Nature Reserve in June 1993. Since this time, there have been considerable efforts to restore the river and despite many recent dry seasons and the climate crisis, there was a celebrated arrival of the Colorado River return to its delta in the Spring of 2014.


This type of conservation efforts and campaigns like actor Robert Redford initiated about the river led to compacts between México and the U.S. like Minute 319 in 2012. In 2002, Colorado legislation passed the Colorado Healthy River Fund that helps fund efforts for many rivers in the state. In 2015, the fund expired, but with quick efforts by advocates they reopened the bill and continue to fund projects and conservation efforts. Reports are available to the public here .


Slowly the efforts to improve our water supply and reduce overuse is being championed by many non-profits like Groundworks Denver, Yampa Valley trust, Willow Creek watershed, and South Platte Communities United to name a few. Some deeper research is illustrated in this 9news water study report last month about the history of water rights and river compacts. There is an old saying that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting”.


Sadly, many of these struggles leave our community without the richness of the stories that accompany the flow of water. Water is life, and humans have been dependent on the rivers to build community from time immemorial. It’s tragic to see how often we use rivers to divide political state and national boundaries. We must recover the stories that our elders related to rivers like the South Platte, which is one of the few rivers that flow north.


The River Sister Congreso (El Semanario Livestream interview with Nita Gonzales) that was held this past weekend was a generous example of people that understand the spirit of the river. All ancestors acknowledged the spirit of the river in a variety of rituals and ceremonies. The effort to clean and conserve our rivers will lead to a cleaner and healthier community for all. The stories of the rivers are like turquoise beads that string together in a beautiful necklace or rosary of prayer beads.

Watch an El Semanario interview with River Sister member, Nita Gonzalez here. (Photo: Karen Gutiérrez/El Semanario)

Each of us can have a relationship with a river. This continent once used the rivers like a highway system for people to travel and visit each other. The largest urban center of Pre-Columbian American was at the junction of the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Ohio rivers in today’s city of St. Louis, MO. You can visit Cahokia still where the last four pyramids of this metropolis are preserved on the east bank in the state of Illinois in East St Louis. This city was abandoned when the first European pioneers arrived in 1790’s because Cuauhtémoc had instructed the people to abandon their streets and cover their temples until the new sun returns.


Rivers carry a message for those who listen. The sound of flowing water over rocks and around bends. There is an immense number of lessons that can be derived from the teaching of water. Water-Unite is another group that seeks to help others realize the value of cultivating this relationship. Our body is mostly water and the qualities of water to respond to the environment and ourselves in turn. There are incredible potentials for human development, healing and refreshing our views of how and why we can come together in the spirit of water and flow like a river.


Daniel Stange de Acatl is a Denver Native and Cultural activist that serves his community on various levels.