The Colorado River Overflight Project invites female pilots, tribal leaders, and tribal youth to view various bodies of water within the Colorado River Basin. Providing media equipment and hosting creative writing workshops, Planet Women encourages the invitees to turn their memories of the flight into museum-quality assets for exhibition, books, guides, websites, and various social media platforms. The main objective of this project is to increase awareness of the region through the viewpoint of current Indigenous women leaders, and to ensure that future Indigenous women leaders within the river basin are educated about the importance of their water so that its sustainability is secured for years to come.
Planet Women is a nonprofit organization that was founded in July 2020, seeking to make an impact on environmental challenges around the world as well as working toward equity and fairness within the environmental movement. Planet Women partners with women to create a healthy planet for the benefit of all life; core values include honoring wisdom, embracing transparency, being inclusive, and empowering the voices of multiple generations to help shape their own solutions.
Coordinating flights over the Colorado River Basin, Planet Women is capturing its rich history through the eyes of Indigenous women. The process begins with the coordination of sightseeing flights over the Colorado River Basin, the nonprofit reaches out to female pilots and introduces them to selected tribal leaders and tribal youth passengers. Preflight mapping is completed weeks prior and depending on the time allotted, the cohort views a handful of water bodies within the basin. Invited passengers have the opportunity to capture videos, photos, share stories and gain more knowledge of the region. Most recently in the project pilot Jessica Caskey gave a tour of the upper basin including Lake Nighthorse, Lemon Reservoir, Vallecito Lake, Lake Capote, Navajo Lake, the Animas River, and the San Juan River on Saturday March 12. Caskey was accompanied by Southern Ute Tribal Water Attorney, Lisa Yellow Eagle and Southern Ute Drum Reporter/Photographer, Divine Windy Boy.
“United States Geological Survey estimates that the Colorado River could lose 14% to 40% of its flows by year 2050 due to climate change, this would be disastrous for nature and people as well,” Aviation Operations Manager Amber Gray stated on the ArcGIS StoryMaps website. “The Colorado River supports energy, irrigation, and drinking water for 40 million people. The river impacts seven U.S. states and Mexico as they receive allocations. Yet demand for river flows exceeds capacity and the past 20 years of megadrought conditions have imperiled the system. To save this important river and the vibrant communities that depend on it, we [Planet Women] believe that a holistic approach and more diverse voices are needed. The idea isn’t to exclude current leaders or ideas, but to include more Indigenous voices and women, so that strategies for river restoration are based on a complete picture of the impact to nature, communities, and cultural history.”
Lisa Yellow Eagle joined the Tribe’s Legal Department as the in-house tribal water attorney in October of 2021, Yellow Eagle’s main responsibilities include evaluating potential opportunities and threats associated with the Tribe’s water rights portfolio; representing tribal interests at the local, state, and basin level; representing the Tribe’s legal interests on the Animas-LaPlata Project, San Juan River Recovery Implementation Program, the Ten Tribes Program, the Water and Tribes Initiative, and future projects as necessary.
“It was so important to me to be able to see the bodies of water that are important to the Tribe and that are part of the water settlement of the Tribe because this is what I will be focused on in the future, protecting those water rights for the Tribe,” Yellow Eagle expressed. “Being able to see the rivers and reservoirs from the air was such a beautiful experience. I now hope to visit each of these rivers and reservoirs in-person, in the upcoming years. I am thankful I was able to participate in this project.”
Following the Saturday, March 12 flight, the project cohort shared their photos and thoughts, “It was an amazing opportunity to take this flight with the Colorado River Overflight Project. We were able to see Lake Nighthorse, which is the reservoir that stores the Tribe’s water from the settlement of its water rights on the Animas and LaPlata rivers,” Yellow Eagle said. “We flew over the Lemon Reservoir, which is located on the Florida River, and delivers storage water to the Tribe’s lands in the Florida drainage. We also flew over Vallecito Reservoir, which is located on the Pine River, and provides storage water for irrigation to tribal members and non-tribal members. We also flew over the San Juan River, and then south over Navajo Lake. We then flew west towards the Animas River and flew north along the Animas until returning to the airport.”
“There are many strong women leaders in the water space who are rising up to protect the future of the Colorado Basin, including Native women from the Southern Ute, Navajo (Diné), and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribes,” stated Amber Gray. “These women are drawing on their deep spiritual and cultural knowledge of the Colorado River Basin, as well as their degrees in hydrology, policy, and ecology to advocate for long term fixes that serve nature and people”.