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“Indigenous Rights to, and in, water flow from the relationship of Indigenous Peoples to our traditional territories. Our right to water is an inherent right arising from our existence as Peoples and includes a right of self-determination with the power to make decisions, based upon our laws, customs, and traditional knowledge to sustain our waters for all life and future generations.”

– Ardith Macklem and Nicole Schabus, Indigenous Water Rights: Briefing Paper for Forum Participants at Our Waters, Our Responsibility: Indigenous Water Rights, May, 2004

Regional – Western Canada


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The Water Economics, Policy and Governance Network (WEPPGN) is an organization working to bring together partners to improve management of water resources in Canada and abroad. Featured projects involve establishing systems of co-governance for water and watershed planning in British Columbia and Alberta between First Nations Communities and multi-scalar governments. Working in partnership with the Indigenous-led NGO Keepers of the Water, the project focuses on three questions: (1) How are co-governance (e.g. legal, regulatory) regimes for Indigenous water rights evolving; (2) what are the advantages, disadvantages, and impacts on decision-making; and (3) how could distributed governance and collaboration, in the context of emerging and evolving legal regimes for Indigenous water rights, enhance sustainable water governance?


Cowichan – Vancouver Island

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In response to local concerns in the Cowichan watershed including salmon survival, drought, flooding and water quality, the Cowichan Watershed Board (CWB) is seeking to take on increasing involvement in and responsibilities for its governance. The Board is working on an incremental partnership approach with current decision-makers to develop a model of local watershed co-governance based on the rationale that management decisions informed by local people, traditional knowledge and local experts will likely lead to better outcomes, in terms of both ecological conditions and community well-being.

POLIS Water Project (BC-Based)

A library of webinars and short films compiled for the POLIS Water Project. The POLIS Water Sustainability Project (WSP) began in 2003 as part of the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. It works to develop innovative legal, institutional, and practical approaches that embody the principles of ecological governance, providing the foundation for a comprehensive legal and policy framework for sustainable water management.


A webinar from the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, discussing the critical need for and importance of co-governance of water and watersheds with First Nations. They describe successful examples, emerging opportunities for change, and what conditions or frameworks must be in place to ensure co-governance arrangements can really thrive.

Collaborative Consent and Water in British Columbia Towards Watershed Co-Governance

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The report takes a detailed look at collaborative consent, how it differs from other collaborative and partnership processes, and includes case studies on how elements of it have been used in B.C., Canada and internationally. Collaborative consent provides a powerful way to tackle difficult questions about how Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments can work together to make decisions about water and land use.

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Regional – Eastern Canada

Great Lakes Commons Initiative

The report takes a detailed look at collaborative consent, how it differs from other collaborative and partnership processes, and includes case studies on how elements of it have been used in B.C., Canada and internationally. Collaborative consent provides a powerful way to tackle difficult questions about how Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments can work together to make decisions about water and land use. It offers a way for B.C. to realize its commitments to govern according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to develop a successful co-governance regime for fresh water through the specific window of opportunity offered by the B.C. Water Sustainability Act.

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Ontario Nature

Ontario Nature offers an example of Indigenous conservation and co-governance with governments through Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). Explored were the concepts of ethical space and shared governance, the recommendations of the Indigenous Circle of Experts, opportunities to advance IPCAs on Crown and private land, and the potential for partnerships and alliances. Emphasis is given to the need to re-establish the sense of responsibility for the land and our resources such as water. “Without taking responsibility we will risk losing and forfeiting our right to use/abuse or manage water.” The importance of culture and spirituality which is lacking in western systems for management and decision-making was a common theme accompanied by the need to adapt and correct behaviors.

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Regional – Northern Canada and The Territories

Great Lakes Commons Initiative

Merrell-Ann Phare presents a talk at the 2016 Water Institute’s WaterTalk series where she talks about water co-governance and collaborative consent. Collaborative consent is the process where all governments – indigenous and non-indigenous –and their institutions work to achieve each other’s consent through collaborative approaches. Outlines how they achieved a successful partnership with Indigenous peoples in the North-West Territories to protect water and honor the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

National - Canada

Canada's Water Crisis: Indigenous Families at Risk

Canada has abundant water, yet water in many indigenous communities in Ontario is not safe to drink, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today. The water on which many of Canada’s First Nations communities on lands known as reserves depend, is contaminated, hard to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems. The federal and provincial governments need to take urgent steps to address their role in this crisis.


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“Watershed monitoring is an essential component of watershed management; however, widespread federal and provincial decentralization efforts have resulted in reduced government funding for such monitoring. In response, communities are mobilizing to address this deficit in Canada by undertaking a practice called community-based watershed monitoring (CBWM).” WEPGN explores the underutilization of community-based watershed management to enhance watershed governance in Canada and highlights project efforts to integrate the practice into decision-making processes around water.

Women and Water

'Keepers of the Water" is part of the series "Water Stories" that examines our relationship with rivers, lakes and bays, and the creatures that live in and around them, including the fish, sportsmen, First Nations peoples, children, local residents, and politicians. This part, narrated by Anishinabe poet and storyteller Lenore Keeshig, is about women and water, and the basics of why water is so important and must be cared for by everyone.

UN World Water Day

At the United Nations General Assembly at World Water Day 2018, 13 year-old, Autumn Peltier, a water advocate from the Wikemikong First Nation in northern Ontario speaks about the meaning of water to First Nations peoples and the purpose it serves to all life. She argues that water is sacred; it has a spirit, and should thus be seen as a human, assured of human rights and granted “personhood” for protection; lastly that the future ought to be focused on securing safe and clean water for all while sustaining what little we have left—fulfilling our promises to water and Mother Earth.

Decolonizing Water

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Previews the national project aiming to engage interdisciplinary and indigenous-led co-research on water. It brings together indigenous communities, researchers, artists and lawyers to work together towards building more resilient water futures. The goal is to create a prototype of an indigenous-led community based water monitoring initiative rooted in Indigenous laws and is a practical expression of Indigenous water governance. It involves a revitalization of the traditionally suppressed indigenous laws; a system where indigenous water law could take precedent over Canadian water law, changing Canada’s relationship with water.

UNDRIP and Water

As Long as The Waters Flow

First Nations fighting for what we all take for granted—clean drinking water.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation

A brief look into the interdisciplinary work being done by Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Fellow Karen Bakker on recognizing Indigenous water governance and water security in Canada. It develops how Canada can live up to commitments on Indigenous rights to water as embodied in the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Carrie Bourassa

Carrie Bourassa

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Carrie Bourassa at a Frontiers of Science presentation speaks to a ‘two-eyed seeing model” which marries traditional knowledge with western knowledge. The two-eyed seeing model reflects “learning from one eye with the strength of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other with strengths of western knowledge and ways of knowing.” She emphasizes how this modelled approach will be key in complementary and co-governance methods applied to indigenous based community participation and water management across Canada.

Water is Life

Water is Life

A short documentary on Indigenous Perspectives on Water. Water is Life.

First Nations Water Right – Legal

This webinar from the POLIS Water Project has Merrell-Ann Phare and Mike Harlow speaking about the ambiguity of First Nations land rights under Canadian law affects allocation and water rights regimes in many provinces. They highlight the legal and practical implications of recognizing First Nations water rights and examine the opportunities this will bring to forming a new, sustainable water ethic in Canada.

CBC Codifying indigenous Laws

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A radio clip from CBC entitled “Indigenous environmental justice works to turn long-standing stewardship into recognized governance.” From the viewpoint of Deborah McGregor, an environmental studies professor at York University, ideas discussed include environmental justice and the codifying of Indigenous laws within the colonial legal system in ways which empower Indigenous communities and are true to a longstanding stewardship of and relationship to the environment.


Indigenizing Water Governance in Canada

“Water-related governance challenges continue to have significant implications for water governance in Canada. Indigenous people have traditionally had a lack of voice, and little participation or significant representation to influence or sanction laws of water protection, regulation and enforcement on traditional territories. Indigenous people are responding to these challenges by voicing their concerns, reclaiming their roles in water governance and calling for adaptation and realignment of current Canadian water policy regimes to include Indigenous water governance processes.”

This article provides a review of literature on some principles of, and models for Indigenous governance of water. Included is a critical discussion of the commonalities and diversities between Indigenous and Western Scientific approaches to water governance as well as debates on the creation of new governance and decision making frameworks that are truly inclusive and introduce culture and governance mechanisms so that Indigenous people can fully participate processes surrounding water governance in Canada.


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The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has implications for fresh water governance in Canada. This article looks into Canada’s commitment to implementing UNDRIP and how it will change the landscape of decision-making and management of water, with special attention to the applications and implications of the “free, prior, and informed consent” of First Nations requirements.





An international example of evolving national policy in Australia recognizing the importance of water to Aboriginal societies which encourages the inclusion of aboriginal people in water planning to understand their use requirements and to consider impacts and effects on these indigenous societies. This film presents an eye-opening look for Western systems into the Aboriginal culture and relationship to the water in northern Australia. Putting traditional information into decision –making processes and accounting for aboriginal interests in discussion and decision-making.

The Columbia River Basin

Barbara Cosens talks about transboundary water agreements and the role of indigenous communities using the Columbia River Basin. She stresses the importance of elevating the voices of local and indigenous communities in these major decisions. Highlighted is the resiliency and involvement of the salmon species in indigenous culture. Tied to the decimation of salmon runs was the diminishing of First Nation territories/reservations and a decreased presence and power of Indigenous peoples. She closes with a present-day review of the Columbia River Treaty eluding to a coming together of American and Canadian tribes to come up with alternatives to current management practices. The dire need for an Indigenous, sovereign, voice in management of this river basin informed by traditional ecological knowledge to direct science and policy is overwhelming.

Adaptive Governance of Water Resources Shared with Indigenous Peoples: The Role of Law

“Adaptive governance is an emergent phenomenon resulting from the interaction of locally driven collaborative efforts with a hierarchy of governmental regulation and management and is thought to be capable of navigating social´ ecological change as society responds to the effects of climate change.” The assertion of Native American water rights on highly developed water systems in North America has triggered governance innovations that resemble certain aspects of adaptive governance, and have emerged to accommodate the need for Indigenous water development and restoration of cultural and ecological resources. This article explores the role of law in locally driven innovation in this context and through examples of the assertion of Indigenous rights, we illustrate critical links between adaptive capacity in water management, good governance, and law.

The US/ Global

A short documentary, developed by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), bringing together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior and decision-making to find solutions to complex environmental problems. Presented is a global overview of water and governance; of historic management of major river basins and watersheds; and reflections on the need for ‘Adaptive Water Governance.’

United States

Tribal Waters: An Introduction to Indian Water Rights. This educational film discusses the legal framework surrounding Indian water rights in the United States. Topics covered include: prior appropriation, federal reserved water rights, Winters Doctrine, and Aboriginal water rights.

Australia Comparisons

“Aboriginal participation in water resources decision making in Australia is similar when compared with Indigenous peoples’ experiences in other common law countries such as the United States and Canada; however, this process has taken different paths. This paper provides a review of the literature detailing current legislative policies and practices and offers case studies to highlight and contrast Indigenous peoples’ involvement in water resources planning and management in Australia and North America.. Improving co-management opportunities may advance approaches to improve inter-jurisdictional watershed management and honor Indigenous participation. Lessons learned from this review and from case studies presented provide useful guidance for environmental managers aiming to develop collaborative approaches and co-management opportunities with Indigenous people for effective water resources management.”



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