Public Health Resources


Date of this Version



The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics Volume 43, Issue s1, Version of Record online: 2 APR 2015.


U.S. government work.


Introduction – Tribal Environmental Public Health

The environment, particularly, land and water, play a powerful role in sustaining and supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities in the United States. Not only is water essential to life and considered — by some Tribes — a sacred food in and of itself, but environmental water resources are necessary to maintain habitat for hunting and fishing. Many American Indian and Alaska Native communities incorporate locally caught traditional subsistence foods into their diets, and the loss of access to subsistence foods represents a risk factor for food security and nutrition status in indigenous populations.1 Negative health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes and cancer, have accompanied declines in traditional food use in indigenous communities throughout the United States.2

This paper will outline the legal and policy framework related to Tribal water rights, with a particular focus on the environmental public health impacts of dam construction in Indian Country. The paper will spotlight three distinct projects — the Dalles Dam on the Columbia River, the Elwha River Dams on the Elwha River, and the Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin Program — to highlight impacts related to health and well-being, water rights, and land use.