Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Research Vol. 20 No. 2, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by the Center for Great Plains Studies. University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Native Peoples and Water Rights constitutes a valuable collection of historical case studies that shed light on a category of rights frequently overlooked. These detailed examinations identify the political, economic, and social factors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that influenced legislative and judicial developments regarding the water rights of North America’s First Peoples. Beginning with the adoption of John Locke’s property theory in the proagrarian policies of the Jefferson administration, Matsui documents the formative period of water rights in western North America. This analysis skillfully contextualizes Chief Justice McKenna’s seminal decision in Winters v. United States 207 U.S. 564 (1908), which affirmed federal supremacy on Indian reservations, and confirmed the grant of sufficient water to ensure that the reasonable needs of reservation inhabitants were met. An analysis of the protracted dispute over jurisdiction to Native water rights between the Dominion of Canada and the provincial government of British Columbia follows. While the Dominion’s position corresponded to the Winters doctrine, Matsui notes how a strong provincial opposition and the Dominion’s reluctance to expend resources resolving Indigenous conflicts permitted the province to perpetuate the validity of its position. Here the reader would benefit from further investigation regarding the manner in which the province has preserved this position in light of the Privy Council decision of Burrard Power Company v. The King [1911] A.C. 87 finding provincial water legislation inapplicable to federal lands in Canada.