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Supreme Court Decisions

Winters v. People of the State of New York, 1908
By The US Supreme Court
Mar 26, 2006, 9:23pm



Also known as the "Winters Doctrine", this finding by the Supreme Court allowed that an Indian reservation may reserve water in an amount necessary to fulfill their purpose with a priority dating from the treaty, act of congress, or executive order that established the reservation.

Winters v. People of the State of New York involved an 1888 agreement that ratified by an act of Congress, which ceded to the United States a large tract of land to be opened up for settlement, while reserving to the tribes other land, bordered by a flowing stream, which became the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.

Non-Indian settlers diverted the stream, and the United States brought suit on behalf of the Indians. The settlers argued that lands would not have been cede for settlement without also ceding the water which would permit them to become fruitful. The United States argued that lands would not have been reserved for the tribes unless water had also been reserved to make the reservation productive.

The Court chose to interpret the agreement from the standpoint of the Indians and to resolved the conflict in their favor. The resulting, decision has become the foundation of all Indian water law.

Source: Department of the Interior

Read the US Supreme Court ruling on Winters v. People of the State of New York

Additional Learning Links

Lesson Plans:

Tribal Water Rights and the Law Lesson Plan
Students will write a persuasive essay regarding Native Americans and reserved water rights. Source: Focus West


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