Networked sovereignty: Polycentric water governance and Indigenous self-determination in the Klamath Basin

Sibyl Diver
Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, USA; sdiver@stanford.edu

M.V. Eitzel
Science and Justice Research Center, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, USA; Center for Community and Citizen Science, UC Davis, Davis, USA; mveitzel@ucdavis.edu

Susan Fricke
Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Orleans, USA; susandfricke@gmail.com

Leaf Hillman
Karuk Tribe, Orleans, USA; leafhillman2@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Water governance engages with complex collective action problems that typically involve a wide range of actors across multiple jurisdictions and large geographical areas. Scholars have conceptualised frameworks of collaborative and polycentric governance to reflect more democratic, devolved and diverse arrangements for governing complexity. What has often been overlooked, however, is the sociopolitical context of working with Indigenous nations and the distinct cultural and political perspectives they bring to polycentric water governance. Focusing on the Karuk Tribe in the Klamath Basin (western United States), this case study examines sovereignty and sustainability concerns that arise with collaborative, polycentric water governance initiatives that involve Indigenous nations. First, we leverage environmental justice frameworks to reveal tensions between collaborative, polycentric governance and social justice concerns. Second, using social network analysis, we examine Klamath water quality networks that involve the Karuk Tribe. Our analysis shows that the Karuk Tribe – as represented by five tribal natural resource managers – connected to 244 distinct organisations and 21 coalitions around water quality issues during the 2018/2019 study period. Social networks help us to visualise the labour required of tribal managers working on water quality issues across multiple centres of governance. Third, we develop the concept of networked sovereignty in water governance to consider both the opportunity and the burden that some Indigenous nations are taking on to advance self-determination in this moment of devolved governance – when tribal managers are building relationships with hundreds of agencies and organisations.

KEYWORDS: Collaborative governance, environmental justice, water quality, polycentric governance, Indigenous rights, Indigenous water governance, social network analysis, Klamath River Basin