Colleen Cooley is one of the few female Diné river guides on the San Juan River. This short documentary follows her down the river as she reflects on the profound responsibility we have to treat water with reverence and care.
To float down the San Juan River is to witness time unfolding before your eyes. The arid orange-and-rust-colored landscape gives way to water rushing downstream, feeding life upon its shores. For time immemorial, the Diné (Navajo) and other Indigenous peoples—including the Hopi, Ute, Zuni, and Paiute—have considered the San Juan sacred. Centuries-old stories and teachings connect the people with the river, which continues to serve as a physical and spiritual resource for all who rely on it.
For Diné river guide Colleen Cooley, the fact that Indigenous people have been present on this land for centuries and are still here to this day should inform the way we view these lands and their history. Colleen’s work to bring awareness to this history and increase Indigenous representation in river rafting makes clear the ways identity and environment are often inseparable.
Water Flows Together focuses on Colleen’s work to highlight Indigenous views on water resource management, which are often missing from larger discussions of conservation. The film is a meditation on the challenges Colleen and her community face, her kinship with the San Juan River, and the unique opportunities her role as a river guide affords her as she seeks to create positive change in the world.
The knowledge Colleen shares represents centuries of often overlooked Indigenous experiences, histories, and perspectives that are necessary to successfully and sustainably manage water on stolen lands. At the same time, economic and social barriers have limited Indigenous peoples’ access to the San Juan, and trends of globalization and urbanization continue to widen the gap between many Diné and the natural world.
We hope that Water Flows Together inspires viewers to consider the impact of recreation on Indigenous lands, listen to Indigenous voices, and include their perspectives on conservation and land management.