Category: Justice

Stories about social and criminal justice

A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court

A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court

Coachella Valley, California
(PascalSijen/ Flickr – Creative Commons)

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have called the Coachella Valley, a desert that receives a paltry three to five inches of rain a year, home for centuries. And the tribe has been anxious about the state of the water supply for years. In 2013, the tribe sued the Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency to halt groundwater pumping. And in March 2017, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a major victory to the tribe. The court said the tribe has legal rights to the groundwater — a decision that could restrict housing and resort development and set a precedent for water disputes between tribes and utilities across the West.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling is “a big deal,” says Monte Mills, co-director of University of Montana’s Indian law clinic and one of 11 professors who penned a brief supporting the tribe’s claims. It’s the first time a federal appellate court has unequivocally recognized that tribes’ water rights extend to groundwater.

“A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court”

High Country News, April 5, 2017

What should a community do to protect its immigrants?

What should a community do to protect its immigrants?

Supporters of refugees and immigrants march in Greeley, Colorado, on March 4, 2017 (JZ)

On a sunny morning in early March 2017, over 400 people hit the sidewalks of Greeley, a small city on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. A diverse crowd in sweatshirts, blue jeans, robes, ankle-length skirts and headscarves, they marched to show their support for the city’s sizable refugee and immigrant population. They started at the University of Northern Colorado, wound toward downtown and ended up at the Global Refugee Center, a local nonprofit.

The route was no coincidence: Greeley is an island of cultural and intellectual diversity in a conservative, rural county. Refugees and undocumented workers help keep the agricultural economy afloat, and the university’s international student population has grown in recent years. By most accounts, these new residents have settled in with relative ease.

But as the targets of President Donald Trump’s nationalist rhetoric and new security measures, many have spent the last few months anxious about possible deportations, arrests and general hostility. Though Trump’s latest “travel ban,” which would have suspended immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, has been blocked, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is stepping up detainments, arresting hundreds of immigrants nationwide. In Greeley, this new political reality has presented local leaders with sometimes uncomfortable choices: What can — and should — the community do to make its new residents feel safe?

“What should a community do to protect its immigrants?”

High Country News, March 28, 2017

Este artículo también está disponible en español aquí.

Harvesting in the Park

Harvesting in the Park

Park Service biologists Tania Lewis and Christopher Behnke work with Huna Tlingit tribal member Charlie Wright to record data from a glaucous-winged gull egg. (Photo: NPS)

For centuries, Tlingit people of southeast Alaska lived, hunted, fished, and gathered at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay, abandoning and rebuilding settlements as glaciers advanced and retreated during and after the Little Ice Age. But a different historic episode froze the tribe out of the area in 1925 when the National Park Service designated Glacier Bay a national monument and banned Tlingits from their ancestral homeland.

Now, the Huna Tlingit and Park Service are ushering in the tribe’s return to Glacier Bay, with the new tribal house and a renewal of traditional harvesting of glaucous-winged gull eggs in the park.

The progress at Glacier Bay is one sign of how the Park Service is rebuilding its relationships with tribes. In its centennial year, the agency clarified a rule to enable native plant gathering in national parks, and has officially recognized the importance of tribal knowledge and practices tied to the natural world—called traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)—in guiding park management.

“Harvesting in the Park”

Hakai Magazine, September 7, 2016

Highway injustice in Denver’s Latino neighborhoods

Highway injustice in Denver’s Latino neighborhoods

A rendition of the highway cover alternative for I-70 in Denver that would add a new park space near Swansea Elementary School. (Courtesy Colorado Department of Transportation)

One of Colorado’s most congested highways, I-70 East badly needs repairs or replacement. But the six-lane highway also cuts off Latino neighborhoods’ access to other parts of the city, and its air pollution contributes to some of Denver’s highest rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Neighborhood residents fear that plans to replace it with a larger, partially belowground highway could just exacerbate their problems. What’s more, they claim planners are ignoring a cheaper, community-friendly alternative.

“Highway injustice in Denver’s Latino neighborhoods”

High Country News, December 21, 2015

Second Life

Second Life

A new Colorado corrections program, launched in 2011,  is helping older inmates — including lifers and convicted murderers — who have done their time to get a chance on the outside.

My feature story, “Second Life,” from the March/April 2012 issue of Miller-McCune profiles the program and participants and those inmates who aren’t yet deemed worthy.

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