The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case in the coming months that will weigh heavily on the largest Native American reservation in the country and its ability to siphon water from the Colorado River.

The Navajo Nation, located in northern Arizona and parts of New Mexico and Utah, is the subject of two appeals that the court will consider, likely sometime in early 2023.

One appeal is from the Biden administration’s Department of the Interior, and the other is from Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and the Water District of Southern California.

Those appeals stem from a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in February that sided with the Navajo Nation, stating it could sue the government over its water policies in the Colorado River Basin.

The Navajo Nation originally sued in 2003, citing two treaties signed in 1849 and 1868 that established the reservation and the government’s intent to supply the tribe with enough water. The government has failed to deliver on that promise, the tribe argues.

The San Juan River, which feeds into the Colorado River at Lake Powell, is the tribe’s main source of water — the Navajo Nation, however, is asking for access to the river’s main branch, which winds along the reservation’s northwest border.

“When the United States creates an Indian reservation, it also promises and reserves for the tribe the amount of then-unappropriated water necessary to fulfill the reservation’s purposes,” lawyers for the tribe wrote in a 42-page filing. “... The question presented is whether ... the United States owes the Navajo Nation a fiduciary duty to assess the Nation’s water needs and develop a plan to meet them.”

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The suit comes as the Colorado River Basin is reeling from a historic drought. Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which regulates the river, cut releases by a half-million acre-feet from Lake Powell to the lower basin states of Arizona and Nevada, as well as Mexico.

The bureau also cut the amount of water Nevada, Arizona and Mexico receive from the river.

A 200-year-old treaty could give the Cherokee Nation a representative in the U.S. House

The case is also the latest example of treaties between the U.S. and Native American tribes dating back to the 19th century being scrutinized by the federal government.

In November, the House Rules Committee is expected to hold a hearing to decide whether to grant the Cherokee Nation a nonvoting representative in Congress, as promised in the Treaty of New Echota signed in 1835 that resulted in the Trail of Tears.

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