Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

February 1992


Published in Great Plains Research 2:1 (February 1992), pp. 118-120. Copyright © 1992 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Professor Burton's work focuses on legal recognition and enforcement of Indian tribal water rights. He explains the uncertainty of tribal rights and the difficulties of perfecting rights in court. Lawsuits encounter jurisdictional disputes between state and federal courts, huge litigation costs, technical problems with engineering and hydrologic data, years of delay, and, in his view, hostile Republican judges on the federal bench. Given the difficulties with lawsuits, he examines in some detail tribes' efforts to pursue negotiations and legislation as alternatives to litigation. He is quite critical of the alternatives and concludes that litigation is still the best choice for tribes. The shortcomings of even the best choice lead to his title's lament, the "limits of law." The book's greatest strength is its longest Chapter, a quarter of the book, which describes in detail attempts to resolve the water rights claims of the O'Odham Nation in southern Arizona by negotiation and federal legislation. This study is useful to those already knowledgeable in the field and to others interested in the policy choices confronting Indian nations. Burton's research is thorough and goes well beyond published sources to include interviews and unpublished studies. The chapter is readable and filled with facts. I learned from it, as would most readers.