University of Montana, Missoula, November 1st-3rd, 2023

From the flooding of Celilo Falls to the damming of Mni Sose (Lakota), Awaati (Hidatsa), or the Missouri River, Indigenous relationships to water have been under attack by colonial development projects for centuries. The Stolen Waters Summit will gather leading voices of Indigenous resistance and resurgence in the Missouri, Columbia, Colorado, and Rio Grande river basins. Talks, panels, and films will feature scholars, attorneys, activists, writers, and artists as well as graduate students from the Blackfeet Nation, Navajo Nation, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and Pueblo Tribes. The conference will also hail a resurgence of traditional cooking, food, and farming techniques and celebrate the poetry and music flowering in the cracks of colonial infrastructures.


The Stolen Waters Summit is hosted by the Environmental Studies Program and the Indigenous Graduate Student Association of the University of Montana. 


The University of Montana, Missoula, MT


November 1st-3rd, 2023


Registration is not required, all are welcome

Event schedule

Wednesday, November 1

Thursday, November 2

Friday, November 3

Speakers and Events

Wednesday, November 1st


Tara Houska is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation, a tribal attorney, land defender, environmental and Indigenous rights defender. She is the founder of the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous women, two-spirit-led front line resistance to defend the sacred and live in balance. Tara Houska has been active in resisting the Line 3 oil pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, and is involved in the movement to reclaim Land Back and in defunding fossil fuels. 


Heather Cahoon is the author of Horsefly Dress (University of Arizona Press, 2020) and the chapbook Elk Thirst, which won the Merriam-Frontier Prize in 2005. Cahoon earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana, where she was the Richard Hugo Scholar. She has received a Potlatch Fund Native Arts Grant and Montana Arts Council Artist Innovation Award. A member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes from the Flathead Reservation, Cahoon is an Associate Professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana. 


Chris La Tray is a Métis storyteller and an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. His third book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2024. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. His second book, Descended from a Travel-worn Satchel, was published in 2021 by Foothills Publishing. Chris writes the weekly newsletter "An Irritable Métis" and lives near Frenchtown, Montana. He is the Montana Poet Laureate for 2023–2025.

Thursday, November 2nd


Rosalyn LaPier is an award winning Indigenous writer, environmental historian, and ethnobotanist.

She works within Indigenous communities to revitalize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), to address the growing climate crisis and environmental justice, and to strengthen public policy for Indigenous languages.

She is a traditionally trained ethnobotanist. She learned ethnobotany and traditional ecological knowledge by apprenticing with her maternal grandmother Annie Mad Plume Wall and her aunt Theresa Still Smoking for more than 20 years.


Nick Estes is an enrolled member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and is an Assistant Professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.  He studies colonialism and global Indigenous histories, focusing on decolonization, oral history, U.S. imperialism, environmental justice, anti-capitalism, and the Oceti Sakowin.

Estes is the author of the award-winning book Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (2019), which places the Indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline into historical context. He co-edited with Jaskiran Dhillon Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement (2019), which draws together more than thirty contributors, including leaders, scholars, and activists of the Standing Rock movement, for a reflection of Indigenous history and politics and on the movement’s significance.


Shirley Trahan (b. 1944) was born and raised in Snyel̓mn (St. Ignatius), the second youngest child in a large traditional family. Her parents, Louise Finley McDonald and Thomas McDonald, and her grandparents, Pečum Finley, Rosette Montour Finley, and Agate Ogden Finley ensured that Shirley and her 14 brothers and sisters (seven of whom survived to adulthood) were raised in the Salish language and deeply immersed in the traditional cultural ways. In 1962, Shirley married Art Trahan, Sr. She has five children: Les, Art, Nickie, Dan, and Vic.

After working for the St. Ignatius Public Schools as a Salish teacher for many years, in 2000, Ms. Trahan began working for the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee (SQCC), a department of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Throughout that time, she has worked as a translator and transcriber of the Committee's extensive body of oral histories recorded in the Salish language, using the International Phonetic Alphabet to create bilingual transcripts that form the core of all SQCC educational materials, including books, articles, signs and posters, museum exhibits, and web-based materials. Her position today is Senior Translator/Transcriber and Language Advisor. Ms. Trahan also serves as a member of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Elders Cultural Advisory Council, which oversees all SQCC work and also serves in an advisory capacity to the CSKT's governing Tribal Council.


Lucy Vanderburg (b. 1946) is the youngest daughter of Jerome and Agnes Vanderburg. With her brothers and sisters, she was raised in the Salish language and traditional way of life. They grew up in the Jocko Valley, surrounded by the vibrant Salish community and the most culturally knowledgeable elders of the time. Ms. Vanderburg was one of the founding staff members of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee (then called the Flathead Culture Committee), established in 1975. Ms. Vanderburg served as the Culture Committee's Salish Language Specialist, translating recordings of Séliš and Ql̓ispé elders, helping perfect the writing of the language in the International Phonetic Alphabet, and teaching classes at the Longhouse, at Salish Kootenai College, and on SKC-TV. Ms. Vanderburg then became the Director of the People's Center museum and cultural education center, where she served for many years until retiring in 2017. Since 2019, Ms. Vanderburg has been a member of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Elders Cultural Advisory Council, helping oversee the Culture Committee's work, and also helping carry out the Elders' role in providing advice, guidance and direction to Tribal Council, other CSKT Departments, and others. Her parents became internationally renowned cultural educators, and Lucy Vanderburg has followed their example in working tirelessly for the continuance and revitalization of Salish language, culture, and history. Ms. Vanderburg has three daughters, Marsha, Sheila, and Michelle, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Shannon Wheeler, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (“NPTEC”), is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe. Mr. Wheeler has an entrepreneurial background and from 1990 to 2016, was primarily involved in his family business in various forms.

Mr. Wheeler was first elected to the NPTEC, the governing body of the Nez Perce Tribe, in May of 2016. In May of 2022, he was elected to his third three-year term. During his tenure on NPTEC, Mr. Wheeler has served as Treasurer (2017–2018), Chairman (2018–2021, 2023), and Vice- Chairman (2021 - 2022). Additionally, Mr. Wheeler has chaired numerous committees while serving on the NPTEC, including Budget and Finance Subcommittee, Land Commission Enterprise, Law and Order Subcommittee, and Climate Change/Energy Subcommittee.

On behalf of the Nez Perce Tribe, Mr. Wheeler has served on the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians’ Economic Development Committee, as a board member for American Rivers, and a variety of tribal boards and commissions.

Mr. Wheeler has been an integral part of the economic growth the Nez Perce Tribe has experienced over the last several years. The Tribe has invested in off-Reservation businesses and has made strategic land purchases in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon—areas within the original territory of the Nez Perce people.

Mr. Wheeler is deeply rooted in the protection of natural resources and has advocated in many forms for the continued support and preservation of these life sources.



Covenant of the Salmon People is a 60 minute documentary portrait of the Nez Perce Tribe’s ancient agreement with salmon and follows their efforts to uphold this relationship as dams and climate impacts threaten the extinction of species and a cornerstone of culture.  The film showing will be followed by Q&A with Nez Perce Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler.

Friday, November 3rd


Angela Parker (Mandan, Hidatsa, Cree) is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and also participates at her father’s reservation, Rocky Boy. She is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Denver focused on 20th century Native American and U.S. history. Her forthcoming book (Fall 2024) with the University of Oklahoma Press is titled Taken Lands: Territory, Sovereignty, and Citizenship on the Fort Berthold Reservation. The book documents the years before, during, and after the Fort Berthold community lost the central portion of their land base due to a massive dam built by the US Corps of Engineers. She is also working on a new project that tracks the long twentieth century history of oil extraction in Native communities. 



Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills (Hidatsa, Mandan, Dakota, and Nakota) is the Director of Food Sovereignty at the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College and Co-Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation-funded WILLOW program. She initiated the concept for the NSF-funded WILLOW project as she was finishing her doctorate program at the University of Montana. Since Fall 2020, she has been leading the project, which aims to increase the success of Native American faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 


Nicole Benally (Navajo/Dine') is currently a Ph.D. student in the Forestry and Conservation Program at the University of Montana, where she is also recognized as a National Science Foundation Food-Energy-Water Nexus Graduate Trainee, Gates Millennium Scholar, Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership Scholar, and Tribal Agriculture Fellow. Through her graduate program, she is increasing her knowledge of social and political sciences as they relate to conservation and tribal/Indigenous food sovereignty. Before beginning her Ph.D. program, Nicole served as New Mexico State University (NMSU) Tribal Agriculture and 4-H Extension Agent for the Eastern Navajo Nation. In 2018, Nicole received her M.S. in Agronomy from Purdue University, with thesis work focused on soil health and cover crop use in Indiana. In 2016, she received her B.S. in Agriculture, majoring in Soil Science from NMSU. 

Nicole is Black Streak Wood, born for the Coyote Pass Clan, and her grandparents are from the Bitter Water and Red Running Into Water Clans. Her interests include reconnecting natural and technical resources, such as agriculture and wildlife, to the contemporary lifestyles of tribal communities to preserve their culture, food, language, and ecological knowledge. She is constantly inspired by her partner and their daughter and son. In her free time, she enjoys mentoring Indigenous scholars and playing Scrabble or painting with her family.


Under the leadership of Cherith Smith from All Nations Health Center, participants will prepare and eat a feast using traditional ingredients harvested from the Missoula area and the four sisters garden at the UM PEAS Farm. Round Dance to follow.


SABA is an artist and live screen printer. Building forts out of sage brush, hauling water and attending boarding school in the mid 80’s, SABA is a descendant of both Dine’ & Walatowa people from the four corners of the world found in Northern New Mexico.

Like a lot of Indian/Native/Indigenous people living on and off of the reservation, SABA has endured a great amount of confusion as to why his traditional way of life and identity is getting harder and harder to find, unknowing of the historical trauma that lay underneath piles of priceless hand woven rugs. SABA receives the message of his and herstories through Arrowsoul fumes in current day petroglyphs. While working in various communities and building with tribal kin, Saba finds he is one of many indigenous refugees digging his way back to the roots through Hip Hop/Indigenous Expression. Bridging the gap from old to new, Hoping to relay the message to the younger generations that the first peoples are ALIVE and Continuing to rise out of this colonial coloring book. Remembering that we have always painted walls, banged beats, rocked the earth and shared stories with our families that stretch from Canada to South America. 

The Stolen Waters Summit is sponsored by Humanities Montana, the UM President's Office, the UM Provost's Office, the UM College of Humanities and Sciences, Davidson Honors College, the UM Graduate School, the UM Environmental Studies Program, the UM Native American Studies Program, the Nez Perce Tribe, American Rivers, Clearwater Credit Union, All Nations Health Center, Zootown Arts Community Center, the UM English Department, Cinnabar Foundation, Clark Fork Coalition, Betty's Divine, Wild Montana, and the Clark Fork Yacht Club.