Throughout the world water plays a central role in the spirituality of indigenous peoples. Focusing on the American West, this article first describes how tribal water needs touch upon the sacred and then explains how both federal law and state prior appropriation doctrine fail to adequately protect these important sacred views of water. Pivoting away from the classic federal law arguments, the article then advocates for an evolution in state water law regimes to provide yet unrecognized protections for tribal sacred waters. Because international law plays an increasing role in this issue, the article also explores case studies from Ireland, Kenya, and New Zealand, where sacred waters are being protected from development. Using these international models for inspiration, the article then focuses on specific first steps where prior appropriation law can begin its evolution.



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