Almost 40 years ago, Congress authorized a dam project called the Animas-La Plata (ALP) to help white farmers irrigate desert lands, but it has never been built. One of the last great Western water projects still on the federal docket, ALP has bitterly divided the community.
An hour-long documentary entitled “Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers” airs on KUED-Channel 7 Monday, April 2, at 9 p.m., and follows the fortunes of two enemy camps as they struggle over the fate of the free-flowing Animas River in Colorado.
The filmmaker, who moved to Colorado from New York City, becomes obsessed with ALP as she learns the dam is tied to massive development plans for this rural area, including coal mines, power plants, and housing developments. She follows the story for over seven years as the struggle takes unpredictable twists and turns, shifting from a local fight to a major battle in Washington, D.C.
This water war is quintessentially Western, involving not only the descendents of old ranchers who homesteaded on parched Indian land, but also the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, whose land was taken. With the tribe recruited as a key promoter for ALP, the battle spreads to the reservation. Sage Remington, a radical Southern Ute activist, pits himself against his own tribal government and its politically connected lawyer, Sam Maynes.
While Sam’s friendship with the tribal chairman helps solidify the tribe’s alliance with developers, Sage finds allies in a group of white environmentalists. But can a multicultural alliance of determined activists stop a dam supported by all the biggest development interests in the Southwest? In an intimate portrait of pork barrel politics, the film takes us along as these unlikely nemeses bring their cases to the halls of Congress, revealing the rich complexities of American democracy and modern Anglo-Indian relations.
“Cowboys, Indians, & Lawyers” is producer/director Julia Dengel’s first feature documentary. “Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers” airs on KUED-Channel 7, Monday, April 2, at 9 p.m.
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