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Navigating the tensions in collaborative watershed governance: Water governance and Indigenous communities in British Columbia, Canada



First Nations in British Columbia (BC), Canada, have historically been—and largely continue to be—excluded from colonial governments’ decision-making and management frameworks for fresh water. However, in light of recent legal and legislative changes, and also changes in water governance and policy, there is growing emphasis in scholarship and among legal, policy and advocacy communities on shifting water governance away from a centralized single authority towards an approach that is watershed-based, collaborative, and involves First Nations as central to decision-making processes. Drawing on community-based research, interviews with First Nations natural resource staff and community members, and document review, the paper analyzes the tensions in collaborative water governance, by identifying First Nations’ concerns within the current water governance system and exploring how a move towards collaborative watershed governance may serve to either address, or further entrench, these concerns. This paper concludes with recommendations for collaborative water governance frameworks which are specifically focused on British Columbia, but which have relevance to broader debates over Indigenous water governance.
Final version: Simms, R., Harris, L., Joe, N., & Bakker, K. (2016). Navigating the tensions in
collaborative watershed governance: Water governance and indigenous communities in British
Columbia, Canada. Geoforum, 73, 6-16. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.04.005
Citations of this work should use the final version as noted above
Rosie Simms
Leila Harris, Nadia Joe, Karen Bakker
University of British Columbia, June 2016
Navigating the Tensions in Collaborative
Watershed Governance: Water Governance
and Indigenous Communities in British
Columbia, Canada
The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Water, Economics, Policy and
Governance Network for this project. We also extend our gratitude to the LSIB Chief
and Council and community members, and to Gwen Bridge, Tessa Terbasket, and Tracy
Lawlor for their project support. Emma Norman and Jana Kotaska helped refine earlier
versions of this work.
First Nations in British Columbia (BC), Canada, have historically been—and largely
continue to be—excluded from colonial governments’ decision-making and
management frameworks for fresh water. However, in light of recent legal and legislative
changes, and also changes in water governance and policy, there is growing emphasis
in scholarship and among legal, policy and advocacy communities on shifting water
governance away from a centralized single authority towards an approach that is
watershed-based, collaborative, and involves First Nations as central to decision-
making processes. Drawing on community-based research, interviews with First Nations
natural resource staff and community members, and document review, the paper
analyzes the tensions in collaborative water governance, by identifying First Nations’
concerns within the current water governance system and exploring how a move
towards collaborative watershed governance may serve to either address, or further
entrench, these concerns. This paper concludes with recommendations for collaborative
water governance frameworks which are specifically focused on British Columbia, but
which have relevance to broader debates over Indigenous water governance.
Keywords: collaborative water governance, First Nations, British Columbia, watersheds
Indigenous1 peoples in Canada have historically been—and largely continue to be—
excluded from colonial governments’ decision-making and management frameworks for
fresh water. The existing colonial water governance system2 is predicated largely on
provincial government control over decisions related to water access and use, and the
Canadian government (referred to as the “Crown”) asserts exclusive ownership of all
ground and surface water.
Today, however, there is growing interest and movement towards a renewed set
of principles and relationships for Indigenous water governance in Canada. This
parallels international debates over Indigenous water rights, particularly in Latin America
and Australia (Bartlett 1998; Basdeo & Bharadwaj 2013; BCAFN 2010; Boelens 2014;
1997; Blackstock 2001; Budds & Hinojosa 2012; Getches 2005; Mascarenhas 2007;
Matsui 2009; Passelac-Ross 2011; Perreault 2005, 2008; Rizvi et al 2013; Singh 2006;
Thorson et al 2006; Toussaint et al 2005; von der Porten 2012; von der Porten & de Loë
2013a, 2013b, 2014; Walkem 2007; Wilson 2014). Notable in the Canadian case is the
fact that evolving legal frameworks imply new approaches to Indigenous title, rights, and
traditional territories and hence expanded (and indeed potentially unprecedented) roles
for Indigenous peoples in water governance, paralleling evolving frameworks for
Indigenous law more generally (Basdeo & Bharadwaj 2013; Borrows 1997; Phare 2009,
2011; von der Porten & de Loe, 2014; Walkem 2007). However, although evolving̈
jurisprudence creates expanded water rights and opportunities for Indigenous
communities to participate in governance processes, there is significant uncertainty with
respect to processes, scope, and uptake. This is a particularly critical issue for
Indigenous communities currently grappling with access to safe water, and with
associated health and livelihood issues in the context of climate change (Basdeo &
Bharadwaj 2013).
These debates are particularly acute in Canada’s western-most province of
British Columbia, a jurisdiction in which formal treaties were never signed between the
Crown and Indigenous communities—which hold full rights to land and water, as
1 The term “Indigenous” refers to First Nations, Inuit, Métis peoples, and also serves as an inclusive
reference to communities that claim a historical continuity with their original territories (Corntassel 2003).
2 The term colonial water governance refers to Crown-implemented decision-making frameworks for
water in Canada that set out who decides and who is accountable; what the parameters of the decisions
are; and how the decisions are made. This includes the colonial legal frameworks for water and the
existing division of powers and responsibilities. Although colonial water governance processes pertain to
and impact Indigenous peoples, Indigenous input, interests and knowledges are often excluded from
colonial governments’ political, organizational, and administrative processes for water.
recognized by Supreme Court decisions in recent years. Debates over Indigenous rights
to water intersect with broader trends in water governance, including growing support
for shifting water governance in BC towards an approach that is watershed-based3,
collaborative, and involves Indigenous peoples more centrally and meaningfully in
decision-making4 (Fraser Basin Council 2012; Brandes & O'Riordan 2014).
In light of these issues, this paper explores Indigenous communities’
perspectives on reforms to colonial water governance systems. Our rationale stems
from Cohen and Davidson’s (2011) critique of watershed-based governance, writ large:
“Watersheds may not be appropriate in cases where re-scaling is being undertaken to
address persistent governance challenges, such as lack of monitoring and enforcement,
without concomitant attention to the underlying sources of the problem; such cases, we
suggest, perpetuate rather than solve governance failures” (9). This paper considers
both where collaborative watershed governance5 has potential to respond to some
outstanding issues that First Nations have identified, as well as ongoing issues it will
have to contend with, and where it still may fall short of addressing persistent
governance challenges.
The paper is organized into 6 sections. Following from this introduction, Section 2
provides detail on the context and drivers of water governance reform in BC. In section
3, we give a brief overview of the methods used in this research. Section 4 is divided in
two parts. The first part presents an overview of persistent governance challenges as
described by different First Nations interviewees and identified through document
review. The second part of section 4 discusses how the transition towards collaborative
watershed governance in BC may ‘articulate with’ the governance challenges identified
in part one. For section 5 we offer a discussion of alternative water governance
frameworks for consideration, including several that may facilitate meaningful
participation of First Nations in BC’s ongoing water governance reform. Finally, in
section 6, we summarize our research with concluding remarks.
3 Watersheds are commonly understood to be “areas of land draining into a common body of water, such
as a lake, river, or ocean”, although they are not scientifically given, and often contested (Cohen 2012:
4 A “Statement of Support for B.C. Water Sustainability Act and Regulations” was jointly prepared by
advocacy groups and three universities to urge the BC government to ensure First Nations are
meaningfully engaged and adequate resourcing will be provided to enforce the new Act. See Statement of
Support, 2014.
5 Collaborative watershed governance and co-governance are distinct concepts: we suggest that there
are fundamental differences in how these two concepts address power sharing and Indigenous rights and
authority: from collaborative processes, in which First Nations play a consultative or advisory role, to co-
governance in which First Nations and colonial governments co-create shared forms of jurisdiction, and
First Nations have substantial or legally-binding authority (Kotaska 2013; Goetze 2005; Tipa and Welch
2006). The two terms are used accordingly throughout this paper.
The primary drivers for current water governance reform in BC generally fall into three
key categories. The first category involves the dynamic legal landscape for Indigenous
peoples in Canada more broadly, and the recent changes in the legislative framework
for water in BC. The second category speaks to the priority that Indigenous
communities in BC give to water and water governance. Finally, the third category
draws from broader calls for water governance reform, including growing interest from
academic and advocacy communities in creating more collaborative and participatory
forms of water governance.
Legal Drivers
The legal landscape for First Nations in BC is unique in Canada in that very few historic
treaties were signed in the province (with the exception of the Douglas Treaties on
Vancouver Island and a section of north-eastern BC which falls under Treaty 8), and few
treaties have been finalized through the modern treaty process (Madill 1981; Kotaska
2013). Thus, the legal fact stands that the majority of the province is unceded First
Nations’ territory (FNLC 2011; UBCIC 2010, 2011; Walkem 2004). Through a series of
legal decisions6, most recently the 2014 Tsihlqot’in case, the Supreme Court of Canada
has clearly established that Aboriginal rights and title can no longer be legally ignored
and that First Nations must be involved at a strategic level in decisions that impact their
territories (Kotaska 2013; Morellato 2008). As the legal landscape of rights and title
continues to evolve, so too do the requirements and impetus for provincial and federal
governments to engage meaningfully with First Nations in land and water governance
and management. These changing legal requirements constitute a critical “precondition”
of collaborative or co-governance-based approaches to water governance, not only in
BC, but across the entire country (Plummer & Fitzgibbon 2004).
Legal changes specific to the realm of fresh water are driving water governance
reform in BC. While there are numerous existing watershed stewardship and
governance entities, some of which involve First Nations, these existing arrangements
have thus far “emerged organically, and are not directed by an overall provincial law or
policy” (Nowlan & Bakker 2007: 14). Now, however, BC’s new Water Sustainability Act
6 From the 1970s through to present there have been a series of pivotal court cases on Aboriginal rights
and title. Critical outcomes from these cases include: confirmation that Aboriginal title to land existed at
the time of the 1763 Royal Proclamation (Calder v. British Columbia [1973]) and continues to exist
(Delgamuuk’w v. British Columbia [1997]); declaration of Aboriginal title to specific lands (Tsilhqot’in
Nation v. British Columbia [2014]); establishment of criteria to determine whether an Aboriginal right exists
and how a government may be justified to infringe upon it (e.g. R v. Sparrow [1990]); and development of
requirements for consultation and accommodation (e.g. Haida Nation v. British Columbia [2004]). Section
35(1) of the 1982 Canadian Constitution recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.
(WSA or Act), which came into force in early 2016, presents the opportunity for
formalized governance shifts to augment and substantiate the role of these entities.
Although the WSA itself does not specify the form of governance that could be
developed, the 2013 legislative proposal stipulates a “collaborative public process” (60)
and “greater involvement and participation for First Nations in water management and
watershed planning processes” (6). Thus, there are broad suggestions that the Province
may work towards establishing or supporting collaborative watershed governance
entities (e.g. authorities or watershed boards) with First Nations representation.
Water is a First Nations Priority
In addition to the legal drivers mentioned above, First Nations across BC have also
clearly identified that water and water governance are priority areas of concern within
broader efforts to assert Indigenous rights and governance (UBCIC 2015). While being
mindful of the diversity of First Nations and wary of making essentialist claims, the
cultural, spiritual, and socioeconomic values of water to Indigenous peoples are widely
depicted—descriptions of water as a powerful medicine and sacred resource, as the
lifeblood of the land, and as a relative that must be respected and cared for, are echoed
by Indigenous communities and organizations, and scholars throughout the literature
(Blackstock 2001; LaBoucane-Benson et al. 2012; McGregor 2012, 2013; Sanderson
2008; Walkem 2004; Wilson 2014). These were also key themes highlighted by First
Nations submissions as part of the WSA consultation process (cf. Program on Water
Governance report, forthcoming).
Strategic planning around water is a prominent aspect of the portfolios of a range
of First Nations organizations, including the First Nations Fisheries Council of BC and
the BC Assembly of First Nations (see Water for Fish program and Governance Toolkit:
Water, respectively). While they differ on specifics, the shared message is clear: water
governance arrangements must “recognize those First Nations or their duly created and
mandated institutions that have the capacity and capability to develop, administer and
enforce their own water laws” (Assembly of First Nations 2012: 2).
Trends in Water Governance Scholarship
A third factor contributing to momentum for water governance reform is an emphasis
within water governance scholarship on the idea that in order for water governance to
be equitable and effective, it should be collaborative, and should include affected
populations—specifically Indigenous peoples—in shared decision-making processes.
These trends are further bolstered by a suite of ecological and social arguments that
have also led to rescaling of many water governance institutions and practices to the
local watershed level (Bark et al 2012; Cohen 2012; Cronin & Ostergren 2007; Barnhill
2009; Jackson et al 2012; Phare 2009; Tipa & Welch 2006; Brandes & O'Riordan 2014;
Memon & Kirk 2012). For First Nations, in particular, water governance scholarship and
freshwater policy and advocacy
communities have increasingly
foregrounded the integral role First Nations must play in water governance in BC
(Brandes & Curran 2009; Brandes & O'Riordan 2014; von der Porten & de Loe 2013a,̈
2013b). These shifts are seen as central, not only for First Nations, but for a respectful,
equitable and effective water governance future more broadly.
The research for this paper involved a mixed qualitative methods approach. First, in-
depth work was undertaken with the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB), a member
of the Syilx Nation, with whom there was mutual interest in working together on water
governance research. Water is at the forefront of planning in the Similkameen region:
the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen is developing a Similkameen
Watershed Plan and the LSIB at the time of this research acted on the steering
committee for this plan; and the Okanagan Nation Alliance is coordinating the Syilx
Water Strategy with the goal to “incorporate Syilx principles and practices associated
with water stewardship” (ONA 2014). As part of this collaboration with the LSIB, we
conducted semi-structured interviews with natural resource staff and others whose work
addresses water, at both the band and tribal alliance level. We also conducted three
community circles to better understand community perspectives and concerns in 2012-
2013. To get a sense of other First Nations’ experiences and perspectives on
collaborative water governance, we also conducted other interviews with natural
resource officers from four other First Nations, in addition to observation at several First
Nations-led water planning meetings. Interviews (a total of 15) were transcribed and
coded; this paper includes quotes as interviewees offered rich insights into the themes
Research also included a document review of First Nations’ submissions to the
Water Act modernization process (a total of 46 submissions were considered), as well
as review of BC First Nations’ water declarations and water governance toolkits. This
document review provided details and perspective on the broader set of concerns and
interactions among various First Nations governments and provincial First Nations
leadership around water governance in the province. Any misinterpretations herein are
the authors’ alone; we do not claim to represent the views of any First Nations involved
in this work.
Results and Discussion Part 1: What are the Persistent Governance
In order to evaluate the scope and potential of collaborative watershed governance in
BC, it is essential to first consider some of the outstanding issues that First Nations
identify in the existing colonial water governance framework, as any new approaches to
governance will have to contend with - and presumably attempt to address - existing
governance barriers. From interviews and document review conducted in this research,
we highlight four key governance issues: (1) there are fundamental contestations over
jurisdiction and tensions with the Province; (2) the colonial governance framework for
water is fragmented and often implicitly or explicitly excludes Indigenous laws and
knowledge; (3) capacity and funding are persistent barriers; and (4) there is a deeply-
rooted lack of trust between First Nations and colonial governments. After providing this
context, we then turn to an analysis of ongoing governance shifts towards collaborative
watershed decision-making, and how this approach is likely to articulate with, respond
to, or potentially compound, the identified concerns.
Fundamental contestations over jurisdiction and
tensions with the Province
Every time we want to talk with the provincial government we always get labeled
as a stakeholder, as an interested party, versus a higher-level government
agency that is trying to make high-level decisions. (Okanagan natural resource
officer, April 2014)
This natural resource officer speaks to a core tension within the existing colonial water
governance framework in BC: the ongoing lack of observation of First Nations’ rights
and jurisdiction, the Province’s assertion of exclusive Crown ownership over water, and
the struggle for First Nations to be, as one interviewee stressed, “not consulted but
engaged” in decision-making related to water. Many scholars have also commented on
the ongoing denial of Indigenous authority and rights and title in colonial environmental
governance in Canada (Dalton 2013; Kotaska 2013; McGregor 2013; Sam 2008, 2013;
von der Porten & de Loe 2013a, 2013b, 2014; Walkem 2004). The prominence of this̈
theme throughout this research reinforces that this remains a fundamental, unresolved
issue in the realm of water governance in BC.
First Nations in BC have made explicit that their rights to lands, water, and
governance have never been ceded, and that they must be engaged as Nations in
government-to-government relationships in decision-making related to water:
Where Aboriginal Title and Rights have not been addressed, the Government of
British Columbia does not have the title or jurisdiction to assert ownership,
control or jurisdiction over water (UBCIC 2010: 3. See also UBCIC 2011; AFN
2012; FNLC 2013).
However, despite legal recognition of Aboriginal rights and title, and agreements signed
between First Nations leadership bodies with the Province that acknowledge the need
for government-to-government relationships and shared decision-making processes7,
the translation into practice in colonial water governance is not consistently
experienced. Many First Nations have voiced their concerns that the consultation and
approval process for the WSA failed to uphold this obligation (see, for example: BCAFN
2013; FNS 2013; UBCIC 2011) and that First Nations were lumped in with other
‘stakeholders’ in providing comments on the legislation (Cowichan Tribes 2010; Haisla
Nation Council 2011; McLeod Lake Indian Band 2013; von der Porten & de Loë 2014).
Further to this, analysis of the outcomes of the consultation process has validated that
First Nations concerns were not taken seriously, particularly regarding water rights and
allocation (McFarlane et al., in process). In its final form, the WSA is silent on Aboriginal
rights and title to water.
The colonial governance framework for water is
fragmented and excludes Indigenous laws and
Decontextualized policies and fragmented lines of accountability stand out as other key
water governance challenges. Several interviewees noted that water policies
administered by colonial governments do not always respond adequately to local
conditions and needs. For instance, a Syilx member related that the drinking water
guidelines are not based on specific needs in the Similkameen, but rather on
regulations developed elsewhere in Canada that are subsequently ‘implanted’ locally,
particularly given federal involvement in drinking water:
Federally it’s not so much an interaction as a dictation. Because there is a new
Bill8 out that will dictate how Bands will manage their water systems. And
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, they set the regulations on
that, because we are under the federal government and they deal with things
across the country. So it’s never anything specific to our area or even to the
province because they are looking at things nationally.
7 In 2005, the Province of BC and BC First Nations entered into a “New Relationship” with the aim to
improve government-to-government relations. The accord sets out new processes and structures to work
together on decisions over land and resource use, revenue sharing, and economic development
(Government of British Columbia 2005).
8 A reference to Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, passed in 2013.
This relates to an overarching theme that
emerged through interviews and
document review— consistent with the work of LaBoucane-Benson et al. (2012) and
Walkem (2004), among others—that within colonial water governance systems, there is
a lack of consideration for the diverse cultural and spiritual relationships, laws, and
forms of governance for water that different First Nations practice and uphold. As one
natural resource officer in the Okanagan summarized, “it [current water governance] is
still completely missing that other worldview.” Various submissions to the Province on
the Water Act modernization process spoke directly to this issue, calling for inclusion of
Indigenous laws and perspectives in the new Act:
The [Water Sustainability] Act must be updated to reflect the unique and cultural
interests that First Nations have with water, and to promote the use of traditional
knowledge in water stewardship and decision-making. (FNS 2013: 1)
Capacity and funding are persistent barriers
Interviewees highlighted funding and capacity challenges9 as key constraints that First
Nations natural resource staff face in water governance. These capacity limitations in
natural resource governance are linked to historical and ongoing colonialism10, which
are experienced in very concrete ways in terms of insufficient staffing, funding, and time.
Water is often just one of a host of responsibilities in a given staff member’s portfolio. A
fisheries staff person explained:
Even on the First Nations side, people are well intentioned and they are
interested. But in some cases when the person is dealing with your water stuff, is
a member of council or maybe the Chief, and they are dealing with 10 million
other things, it’s really hard to have that thoughtful kind of engagement that is
really needed for those processes.
Further, capacity to govern water resources not only varies tremendously between
individual First Nations and nation or tribal alliances in BC11 but it is also constrained
within colonial governments as well. As we will return to later in this paper, we suggest
9 Our interpretation does not suggest that First Nations are ‘capacity deficient’; First Nations possess the
capacity to govern within their own systems of knowledge and laws, and have and continue to develop
capacities to interact with and challenge colonial governance.
10 The referrals process, for instance, places immense burdens on Indigenous communities’ time and
resources, and has been described as “one of the greatest logistical difficulties facing Aboriginal
communities today” (Morellato 2008: 72)
11 For example, one First Nation in BC’s lower mainland that is developing a watershed strategy has a
registered population of 92 members. Total annual federally received funding in 2013 for social, housing,
and education programs, community infrastructure and economic development initiatives was reported at
$1.2 million. Comparatively, an adjacent First Nation, also located in the lower mainland, is developing a
marine use plan and has a registered population of 4,176 members with federal funding at $13.9 million.
that emphasis also needs to be placed on reversing the gaze of ‘capacity development’
back to colonial governments, requiring colonial governments to build an understanding
of First Nation’s laws, language, protocols for working together. In addition, sufficient
staff will be needed to effectively engage with each First Nation.
Fragmentation in colonial water governance also creates capacity challenges.
Water cuts across jurisdictions including those of multiple First Nations, in addition to
federal, provincial and local governments (not to mention those that cross transnational
boundaries, e.g. between Canada and the U.S., see Norman 2012 & 2015). Within each
of these government entities, responsibility for specific aspects of water management is
further fragmented between multiple departments. Several interviewees described that it
is unclear which authorities are responsible for different aspects of water governance
and management, such as monitoring and sharing water quality and quantity
information. This fragmentation, they suggested, further constrains the ability to pursue
holistic or meaningful water management that serves the needs of First Nations.
Lack of trust
At the confluence of the issues described above—contested jurisdictions,
fragmentation, and capacity challenges—lies the outstanding matter of lack of trust. In
the words of a LSIB member, “the distrust is on so many levels and so many ways.”
Historically, the provincial government has given First Nations little basis to trust that
they will be engaged respectfully in water governance, and, as mentioned previously,
the WSA was another failure to acknowledge Aboriginal water rights and develop a
more meaningful consultation and engagement process (FNS 2013):
First Nations are continually forced into lengthy and costly litigation and other
processes to advance their Aboriginal title and rights as a means of protecting
the environment against unsustainable development and practices. This
perpetuates a relationship with the Crown, and proponents, based on conflict,
rather than mutual respect and cooperation (FNS 2013: 8).
Writing of co-governance, Goetze (2005) describes the “crisis of confidence” between
First Nations and the province of BC, where “negotiating new relationships must
contend with a firmly entrenched legacy of suspicion and distrust” (256). This legacy
was evident in this research, and is certain to condition the likely success or outcomes
of emerging water governance shifts.
Results and Discussion Part 2: Collaborative Watershed Governance
in BC: Implications for First Nations’ Engagement in Water
The previous section detailed existing governance barriers that some First Nations
encounter in colonial water governance in BC. It also provided a sense of the ‘initial
conditions’ upon which a collaborative
watershed governance approach would
need to build, with critical issues including lack of trust, and a system in which non-
Indigenous ideas and practices dominate. We now turn to a discussion of how
collaborative watershed governance could ‘articulate with’ these existing governance
challenges. Specifically, we consider four key themes: 1) Power sharing and core
jurisdictional tensions with the Province; 2) Scale of authority and collaboration with
local government; 3) Capacity challenges as an impediment to equal First Nations’
participation; and 4) ongoing entrenchment in non-Indigenous approaches.
Power sharing and core tensions with the Province
over jurisdiction
From First Nations’ initial responses to the WSA’s proposal for new forms of
governance, as well as based on accounts of experiences with existing collaborative
watershed entities, tensions around power sharing and strength and scale of authority in
water governance are evident in the relationships between First Nations and the
The Province must not assume it has sole jurisdiction over water, nor that it is the
sole authority to delegate management of the water in our traditional territory.
Water issues transcend jurisdictional boundaries and are not the responsibility of
just one governing body (Cowichan Tribes 2013:1).
Overall, despite the loose suggestion in the WSA legislative proposal of “greater First
Nations participation,” there is also a clear ongoing adherence to provincial government
Ultimate accountability for environmental protection would remain with the
provincial government. It would continue to establish and coordinate laws, rules,
agreements and financial arrangements, including setting provincial objectives
and outcomes. It would also be responsible for deciding the institutions, systems
and roles for any delegated responsibilities (MoE 2013: 84).
While the WSA now includes the potential for decision-making under the Act to be
delegated to other entities—which could include watershed governance entities—in
their submissions to the WSA several First Nations noted concerns around this
It is important to note that the [WSA] proposal does not clearly distinguish
between governance and stewardship responsibilities, nor does it indicate which
entities (First Nations and other governments, water users, interest groups, etc...)
will hold those responsibilities (BCAFN 2013: 23).
A natural resource consultant working in the Similkameen contemplated that the
Province does not have the legitimate authority for water on or below First Nations
reserves and territories, and that because First Nations have never ceded their
governance powers for water, the Province cannot then delegate that authority:
It is interesting because it would have to be that the Nation or Band would have a
decision-making authority over whatever decisions are being made…So one of
the challenges is well, does the Province even have the authority to delegate any
governance to First Nations? So they can’t really do that…(Okanagan Natural
Resource Officer, November 2013).
Relatedly, the question of who has legitimate final authority in collaboratively-governed
watershed entities is also a point of contention. For instance, the former National Chair
of Aboriginal Economic Development writes in her submission to the WSA: “Working
collectively together is important to bring everyone’s interest to the table, but in the end,
it should be First Nations interests as priority in order to protect their rights enshrined in
s. 35 of the Constitution Act” (Sayers 2013: 6).
Goetze (2005), writing on co-governance, notes that such arrangements will only
be empowering to the extent that they “facilitate the exercise of power historically held
by Aboriginal peoples in managing their resources as autonomous nations” (248).
Similarly, the legitimacy and acceptability of watershed entities will rest on the extent to
which provisions are made for power-sharing and decision-making authority for First
Nations (Kotaska 2013; von der Porten & de Loë 2013a, 2013b). The development and
approval process of WSA itself certainly fell did not create these real shifts in power-
sharing, and it remains to be seen whether the watershed governance entities that
could obtain decision-making authority through the Act will facilitate robust decision-
making authority for First Nations.
Scale of authority and collaborating with local
Dimensions of scale are complicated in considering First Nations’ jurisdiction and
authority in the context of collaborative watershed governance. Cohen and Davidson
(2011) note: “The watershed approach represents both a scaling up from municipalities
and a scaling down from nations, states and provinces…” (4). Although these shifts are
complex enough in the context of colonial governments, governance rescaling is even
more complex with respect to First Nations’ authority. As previously described, First
Nations are not stakeholders or local governments, but rather function as governments
that negotiate with the Crown. At the same time, distinct First Nations have unique ties
and governance powers for specific territories. Further, the governance scales and
territorial boundaries within which First Nations operate and engage are highly variable
and do not necessarily correspond to particular watershed areas. An additional
complexity is the issue of overlapping and
competing claims to territories between
First Nations (Kotaska 2013). As Phare (2011) describes: “In any given region, there
may be multiple claims by different First Nations to the waters. These First Nations may
have different, and competing values, ranging from conservation-oriented perspectives
to development and full exploitation. Further, each First Nation may have a different
strength of claim to water rights in an area, and this would have to be determined” (14).
While there is in-depth commentary on the dynamics between the province and
First Nations around water governance, less attention has been given to the interactions
between First Nations and local governments. First Nations and local governments have
historically had little interaction with one another (Wells 2004); today, however, more
extensive relationships and partnerships are emerging (Abram 2002), including in the
realm of watershed governance. Collaboration between First Nations and local
governments has its own set of complications. For instance, a First Nations natural
resource staff person recounted how differing strengths of authority can hinder working
with local governments even when there are mutual intentions to collaborate:
It is good: every band is trying to work with the local municipality the best they
can so that they have a better working relationship. And when it comes to issues
such as water - that’s so big that it has to be there for everybody in the
community, Native and non-Native. So they are trying hard to do that. Every time
we look at interacting with Regional Districts we have to be very cautious
because we can’t recognize that level of government…So every time we want to
talk with anybody, we have to be very careful with Aboriginal title and rights, and
signing over, consultation, and jurisdiction.
The Similkameen provides an interesting case of an existing watershed initiative
between local governments and a First Nation. The LSIB and the Regional District of
the Okanagan-Similkameen have recently started working together on a Similkameen
Watershed Plan. This plan is headed by the Similkameen Valley Planning Society
(SVPS), of which the LSIB is a member. While the plan is still in its early phases, and
we do not claim to know the full extent of dynamics and relationships involved, it is
productive to look at the factors shaping negotiations. A LSIB member described that
being part of the SVPS watershed initiative is potentially one step towards having
greater influence in decision-making around water: “So obviously the band was very
smart and wise to recognize that sitting and being part of the society is strategically very
important for saying, ‘we want to be a decision-maker in this valley.’” This interviewee
conveyed that while it is an ongoing struggle to set the terms of engagement, there has
been progress:
So I would say we’ve made some really good ground at that table. I mean they
don’t sit there and assume that because you are an Indian you approve for the
band. They now understand that that is consultation that has to happen at a
different level, but we are there and we are participating in this information.
It seems, at least initially, that a key barrier for First Nations in collaborating more
broadly in locally-based watershed initiatives is a lack of guidelines or protocols that
would not prejudice Aboriginal rights or title claims. Some such protocols and
agreements (including the New Relationship Accord and the Kunst’aa Guu –
Kunst’aayah Haida Reconciliation Protocol) have been agreed to between First Nations
and the Province and might help to facilitate collaboration across the multiple scales of
authority. While the effectiveness of these agreements has fluctuated over time, the
commitment to work together, at a minimum, can allow for on-going renewal of the
relationship between parties.
Capacity challenges – an impediment to equal First
Nations’ participation
As previously discussed, capacity limitations in terms of time, staff, and resources are a
significant challenge for many First Nations natural resource departments, often linked
to historical and ongoing colonialism. Here, it is useful to turn to Tipa and Welch’s
(2006) work on collaborative water governance in New Zealand, in which they
problematize capacity as an impediment to Indigenous participation in basin
governance. These scholars highlight that cooperative management, predicated on the
ideal of “interaction between equal partners in decision making” (382) is unsatisfying
insofar as it “omits to explain how equal status and equal participation are to be realized
when one partner has greater access to funding, staffing, expertise, statutory powers,
and functions” (382). Such concerns remain outstanding for the issues under
consideration here. For instance, as a First Nations staff person involved in a
collaborative watershed entity related:
There is a good shift in understanding [for the Regional District] to realize it is
easier to work with us than to not work with us. So it’s just a matter of they have
tax dollars and capacity to fund that position, whereas for us to have a dedicated
person who works in that position with them, we would need to find the capacity
for it. So there are still some of those traditional barriers to being able to
participate fully into the meaningfulness to that agreement.
Given these realities, there is increasing recognition that resources need to be provided
for First Nations to assume a meaningful decision-making role in collaborative
watershed governance (Brandes & O’Riordan 2014; von der Porten & de Loë 2014), a
concern that many First Nations also stress as an outstanding issue in their WSA
submissions to the Province (cf. PoWG report, forthcoming). This includes shifting the
onus on capacity development for collaboration onto colonial governments, who also
maintain a fiduciary responsibility for
Aboriginal peoples. We will return to this
discussion in section 5.
The foundations of water governance remain firmly
entrenched in non-Indigenous approaches
While there is recognition that capacity in terms of funding, human resources, and
technical knowledge is a prominent concern, Nadasdy (2012) writes that such calls for
capacity development have problematic undercurrents:
This same paternalistic subtext is evident in by now taken-for-granted calls in the
Canadian self-government discourse for First Nations to build capacity, a
euphemism for Euro-Canadian-style training that will enable them to serve as the
bureaucratic functionaries increasingly required by land claim and self-
government agreement as if they had not had the “capacity” to govern
themselves before the arrival of Euro-Canadians (529).
Although Nadasdy (2012) is writing of the land claims process in northern Canada, his
argument translates into a critique of collaborative watershed governance. We suggest
that discussions of capacity in collaborative watershed governance need to be
broadened to consider who is directing the process: who is being asked to speak whose
language, and on whose terms and knowledge systems is collaborative watershed
governance proceeding? With increasing recognition of Aboriginal rights and title,
growing prominence given to the notion that interactions between colonial governments
and First Nations should be on a government-to-government basis, and a proliferation
of natural resource co-governance schemes, First Nations have been forced to work
within dominant bureaucratic management systems (Nadasdy 2003a: 2; see also
Natcher et al. 2005; Natcher & Davis 2007). Kotaska (2013) has documented that this
has generally held true in emerging co-governance arrangements in BC, where
Provincial structures and processes continue to dominate.
Turning to water specifically, given the heightened attention on collaborative
water governance with First Nations, First Nations could face an ‘onslaught’ of requests
to participate in collaborative watershed governance processes. One interviewee
working on provincial water and fisheries issues articulated preoccupation that First
Nations will have to continue to work in a governance framework still premised on non-
Indigenous foundations, leaving little space for Indigenous knowledge and
conceptualizations of governance:
But the thing that I worry about is that if there gets to be more watershed-based
planning and First Nations are engaged at that level, I always just worry about…
it’s wrong to say the ability or the knowledge that people would need to have
coming into a planning process like that or a management process. And again it
is sort like the situation where as a First Nations [person], I have to fit into
someone else’s worldview and how they think or how they manage and how they
So the thing that I worry about is how successful are these things going to be if
people come into these processes with different sets of experience and
knowledge that may not be recognized by the other parties in the group? But
First Nations bring a wealth of knowledge in the knowledge that they have about
the landscape and the territory which might not be that compatible. But that
doesn’t mean that it is not as valuable. So I think it is the knowledge systems that
will be used going forward, will they be respected and recognized within the
planning process?
This interviewee raises two key issues that require attention. The first is the concern
that First Nations will have to continue to adapt to the terms of water governance
processes under the direction of colonial governments, versus placing the onus on
colonial governments to support, adapt, or at minimum, follow more closely Indigenous-
led plans and approaches to water governance. As such, a power imbalance is
embedded within the process from the outset. Relatedly, this interviewee raises the
question of whether space will exist within watershed entities for First Nations’
knowledge and viewpoints to be privileged or at least considered on equal grounds as
Euro-centric knowledge. As has been identified in existing co-governance and co-
management schemes, there is concern that Indigenous knowledge will not be treated
as a complete knowledge system, but rather distilled from its context into disparate
fragments that can easily incorporated into dominant colonial water management
structures (Bark et al. 2012; Cruikshank 2004; Nadasdy 2003a, 2003b; Natcher et al.
2005; van Tol Smit et al. 2014). In summary, attention must be directed at who is in
control of developing the terms, structures, and decision-making processes of
collaborative watershed governance, and if and how Indigenous knowledge are
privileged (Kotaska 2013).
Our research suggests that the imposition of a colonial governance framework has done
little to support the inclusion of Indigenous peoples or their knowledge in existing water
governance frameworks. Maintaining this framework is no longer viable, particularly
given the changing legal landscape in Canada that recognizes Aboriginal rights and title
to lands and resources, including the right to manage those lands and resources. While
legislative changes introduced in the new WSA may promote First Nations participation
in water governance, it remains to be seen whether or not these changes will sufficiently
and effectively articulate with the core concerns that First Nations have identified in the
existing colonial water governance system.
Based on our document and literature review, in addition to evaluation of
concerns raised by interviewees, the following section discusses three alternative
pathways for collaborative water governance arrangements. Each is gaining support
from Indigenous peoples and in academic and policy circles, and some are already
evident across the province in more practical ways as well. Each of these alternatives, it
should be noted, assume collaboration, versus resistance (i.e., legal challenges), as a
pathway towards improved Indigenous participation in water governance. This is not to
invalidate legal challenge as a legitimate avenue for redress and improvement, as we
recognize that considerable progress for First Nations has often only proceeded through
legal channels. As part of the discussion of alternatives, we also seek to address the
enabling conditions or supports needed to effectively restructure the framework and
address core tensions, implied by these different, albeit linked, options.
Imagining Alternative Pathways Towards Collaborative Water
Co-governance is increasingly attracting greater interest and attention from water
governance and legal scholars (see Nowlan & Bakker 2010; Brandes & O’Riordan
2014; Wilson 2013) as a means to address some of the key barriers to Indigenous
participation within the current water governance framework, such as shifting towards
the empowerment of traditionally marginalized stakeholders; the reinforcement of social
trust between parties; and the reduction of conflict (Nowlan & Bakker 2010: 17).
Furthermore, co-governance can potentially address core tensions related to authority
and power sharing, offering an opportunity for the Province and individual First Nations
to define and agree on a process for sharing authority and decision-making over water
resources. Generating the terms of the governance process and structures together can
create the space to include Indigenous conceptualizations of governance that ultimately
may serve to enhance sustainable water governance.
For example, the shift away from a centralized authority towards more locally-
based governance can signal greater inclusion of local and traditional knowledge to
inform decision-making, as well as improved access for First Nations to information held
by government agencies. For colonial governments, this can mean enhanced
community support leading to more positive outcomes for water management and
There are limitations to co-governance, however, particularly around dismantling
the power imbalances inherent in colonial governance frameworks. Co-creation of new
governance frameworks needs to ensure that the updated model doesn’t simply
replicate an overly bureaucratic structure that overwhelms each governments’
capacities and/or excludes Indigenous knowledge or conceptualizations of governance.
An additional challenges with greater and more equitable representation of all parties in
a co-governance arrangement is the greater costs involved to support participation.
Neither of these limitations, however, precludes co-governance from being a viable
alternative for a more equitable and effective collaborative water governance
arrangement with Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous Governance
In the first court case to grant Aboriginal title to lands outside an Indian Reserve, the
2014 Tsilhqot’in decision by the Supreme Court of Canada conferred ownership rights to
Aboriginal peoples. These rights include the right to decide how land will be used; the
right to economic benefits of the land; and the right to proactively manage the land. This
decision clarifies the right for Indigenous peoples to both shape and assert their own
forms of governance over their lands and resources in a manner that reflects their
values and perspectives (Mandell & Pinder 2014).
Consequently, one increasingly attractive alternative to address the concerns
First Nations have with the existing water governance framework is for First Nations to
develop their own water plans and exert their own Indigenous laws over water
resources in their titled, reserve, and treaty lands or traditional territories. A number of
Indigenous-led water governance initiatives have recently emerged to achieve exactly
that. Most recently, the Nadleh Whuten and Stellat’en First Nations have developed and
enacted water laws in their traditional territory that they will use to hold government and
industry to account (Hoekstra 2016). The intention behind the water policy is not to
prohibit industry or development in their traditional territories, but instead to set the
terms of reference for government or third parties to meet the water objectives set by
the communities.
While the Syilx Water Strategy is still under development, it represents the effort
of one Nation to build an Indigenous
water governance strategy, where “the
themes expected to emerge from this work will be the Syilx perspective on the
importance and value of water, how it should be used and not used, issues with how
water is currently used and strategies to conserve, respect and protect water in Syilx
territory” (ONA 2014). One interviewee explained that the Strategy will also be a starting
point to set terms of engagement with colonial governments in water governance:
We [the Syilx Nation] will be able to use it [the Syilx Water Strategy] to engage
with provincial and federal proponents and regional districts, and say: this is our
viewpoint and this is how we want to manage water. Here’s our policy, here’s our
viewpoint, and how are we going to work together to come to these similar
Indigenous assertion of sovereignty over water resources, can result, paradoxically, in
both clarifying positions and further complicating jurisdictional authority. As previously
mentioned, competing claims over land and resources occur not just between First
Nations and colonial governments but also between individual First Nations (Phare
2011). Moreover, will Indigenous-led governance activities be recognized by colonial
governments? And does it matter if they are? While dismantling traditional power
imbalances inherent in the existing colonial framework may imply that First Nations can
only achieve their goals of self-determination by working outside a colonial system, it
doesn’t, however, imply that they can achieve their goals of water governance. That is,
for Indigenous water governance to be respected by other agents—including colonial
governments, industry, or other land and water users—it will need to be recognized, at
least to some extent. Furthermore, First Nations will need the supplementary resources
to enforce their water laws and policies. The persistent challenge this presents is that
existing resource and capacity constraints can limit many First Nations’ efforts to create
their individual water plans, policies and strategies.
Transitional Governance
In the interim, as the regulations are developed that set out how the governance
provisions in the Water Sustainability Act will be interpreted and applied, there needs to
be a way for Indigenous and colonial governments to work together: acknowledging
fundamental disagreement over authority, jurisdiction, and rights and title, but
recognizing the need for improved water management. One model that demonstrates
how incremental reconciliation of Provincial and Aboriginal title to water could occur is
the Kunst’aa Guu Kunst’aayah Haida Reconciliation Protocol. In the reconciliation
protocol, both the Haida Nation and the Province explicitly acknowledge their competing
claims to jurisdiction for Haida Gwaii territory. With these competing claims made clear,
the Protocol commits both parties to working together:
Notwithstanding and without prejudice to the aforesaid divergence of viewpoints,
the Parties seek a more productive relationship and hereby choose a more
respectful approach to coexistence by way of land and natural resource
management on Haida Gwaii through shared decision-making.
These interim agreements are not intended to resolve outstanding disputes over lands
and resources. Instead, they provide a framework to continue to build the relationship
between parties and work towards shared interests in land and resource management.
In short, they can represent a step towards reconciliation.
Enabling Steps Towards Collaborative Water Governance
While each of the alternative pathways address one or more of the key concerns raised
throughout the interviews and noted in the document review, there remain unresolved
tensions. Neither co-governance nor Indigenous governance approaches explicitly
reconcile jurisdictional fragmentation and divergent worldviews. And regardless of the
approach, additional resources will be needed to further water governance in BC.
Consequently, various preconditions need to be met, not only to resolve some of the
barriers to First Nations’ participation, but also to support the creation of enduring and
effective structural change in water governance. As well, it is important to acknowledge
that some of these pathways may be fundamentally in tension with each other, so
supports may be needed to negotiate any such tensions that emerge as different
frameworks are pursued in tandem.
Learning each others’ ways
Through assimilationist policies, such as the Indian Act, First Nations have often been
forced to adopt and adapt to colonial laws and institutions that historically excluded their
participation. While First Nations are now invited to participate, to some extent, in the
current water governance framework, their participation is still constrained by resource
and capacity limitations. This is not simply a matter of First Nations lacking the
knowledge and capacity but rather a symptom of a structural barrier that prevents
equitable participation.
While many First Nations governments would benefit from additional resources
invested in capacity for water governance, we suggest that emphasis also needs to be
placed on reversing the gaze of capacity development back to colonial governments.
This requires colonial governments to build an understanding of each First Nation’s
laws, language, and protocols for working together. As Tipa and Welch (2006) comment,
there is “…an under-theorization of how capacity building is achieved, itself a reflection
of a common belief held by local-level agencies that it is primarily if not only indigenous
groups that require such enhancement of capacity” (383). Colonial governments and
institutions must respond to and learn to work with the many water governance
processes and strategies that different First Nations in BC are developing.
Learning together and about each others’ water governance processes can have
the added benefit of enhanced understanding of water systems which may result in
improved water management practices. The act of learning together may also help
reconcile divergent knowledge systems and worldviews into shared governance
practices and decision-making.
Resource and capacity building
The persistent challenge confronting each alternative pathway to collaborative
governance is that resource and capacity will continue to constrain the efforts of many
First Nations and colonial governments. For First Nations to participate equally in any
given water governance regime, this will mean more than building capacity and
adequate resourcing to sustain water governance participation. It might also translate
into need for greater coordination and willingness to share resources and knowledge
among First Nations. It might also mean collecting resource revenues or entering into
resource revenue sharing with the provincial government. For instance, First Nations
might collect all or an agreed-upon portion of water licence fees and rentals issued
within their traditional territories12.
Colonial governments can also face significant resource and capacity shortfalls.
From the 2014 Statement of Support for BC Water Sustainability Act and Regulations,
the authors recognized the BC government’s “financial resources are limited and the
new regulations have costly implications” (1). Thus, the authors urged the provincial
government to recover sufficient funds from water users in the province through the
increase in water license pricing in order to support full implementation of the WSA.
Access to adequate and sustained sources of funding and capacity will be critical
to both First Nations and colonial governments in advancing not only preferred but
enduring pathways to water governance. The resources considerations are particularly
crucial if we take seriously the requirements of meaningful and engaged collaborative
processes—a time and resource intensive endeavor.
Restoring trust and reconciliation
“The ultimate objective [of reconciliation] must be to transform our country and
restore mutual respect between peoples and nations.” (TRC 2015: 19)
At the heart of moving forward together are the basic requirements of time and
relationship building to move beyond the “crisis of confidence” (Goetze 2005) and
12 These revenue sharing arrangements have strengthened support with the Tsilhqot’in decision,
whereby First Nations have the right to the economic benefits of the land (Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British
Columbia 2014 SCC 44, para. 73) and whereby the Province currently collects fees and rentals from
water resources in First Nations traditional territories.
establish trust and capacities for collaboration. This must happen at multiple levels, from
the personal to the institutional. As one interviewee highlighted:
It’s about relationship building and understanding different perspectives and what
other peoples’ needs and drivers are. And how they communicate. To me that is
always the most important part of the process: if you can spend the time building
the relationship without worrying too much about what the objectives are, or
without trying to work to something.
Perhaps the best resource for understanding how to restore trust and build the capacity
for working together is the recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(TRC). This report highlights the core tensions in the relationship between Indigenous
and colonial societies, albeit through context of the Indian Residential Schools in
Canada. However, the TRC report provides significant insight into going forward “in a
manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship
among people” (3). The range of the barriers to Indigenous participation in water
governance, including exclusion, resource constraints, and deeply rooted lack of trust,
suggests that reconciliation of the relationship between the colonial governments and
Indigenous peoples may not only be a pre-condition, but the basis for creating enduring
and effective water governance.
Against the backdrop of growing interest in collaborative watershed governance with
First Nations in BC, including in the newly enacted Water Sustainability Act, this article
addressed the question: Based on the existing state of colonial water governance in BC,
what are some of the implications of collaborative watershed governance for First
Nations’ water governance concerns and goals? This research has determined that in
BC the existing colonial water governance framework (1) is fragmented with respect to
jurisdictional authority; (2) often excludes Indigenous laws and knowledge; (3) lacks
capacity and funding for First Nations equitable participation; and (4) remains firmly
entrenched in colonial, or non-Indigenous, approaches. Underlying all of these concerns
are lack of trust and a fundamental contestation over sovereignty of water in BC.
Unresolved, this undermines the legitimacy and potential of the new WSA and
collaborative governance arrangements that may be supported by the Act.
This paper subsequently considered how collaborative watershed governance
with First Nations might respond to and/or further embed some of these challenges.
Specifically, we considered narratives around capacity and implications of ongoing
colonial control. To date, there has been little challenge to existing power imbalances:
colonial governments remain in control of water governance processes, and resource
and capacity imbalances are an impediment to equal Indigenous participation in
collaborative watershed efforts.
Building more equitable and effective water governance in BC will require
fundamental transitions away from the existing colonial water governance framework.
However, the geographical, cultural, and linguistic diversity of BC’s 203 First Nations
indicates there cannot be one prescriptive approach to reconciling competing claims to
land and water within one set governance structure. Yet, it is possible to envision new
arrangements that would both explicitly acknowledge competing Indigenous and
Provincial claims to water and establish clear terms for “a more respectful approach to
coexistence” through shared decision-making. This, of course, will require a long-term
commitment to work together as any approach will experience “cycles of change”
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... I argue that the problems within water governance, in Indigenous spheres, are due to colonisation. Simms et al. [6] points out that existing issues in WaSH are systemic and due to supposed provincial and federal government ownership over all water in Canada [6]. 2 The federal and provincial governments laying claim to water trivialises the 'ethic of responsibility' that many Indigenous populations adhere to when interacting with water [8]. McGregor [8] argues that 'the major strength of First Nations involvement and input [in water governance] is the consideration of values, ethics, and knowledge that provide a holistic understanding of water' (clarification added; [8]). ...
... I argue that the problems within water governance, in Indigenous spheres, are due to colonisation. Simms et al. [6] points out that existing issues in WaSH are systemic and due to supposed provincial and federal government ownership over all water in Canada [6]. 2 The federal and provincial governments laying claim to water trivialises the 'ethic of responsibility' that many Indigenous populations adhere to when interacting with water [8]. McGregor [8] argues that 'the major strength of First Nations involvement and input [in water governance] is the consideration of values, ethics, and knowledge that provide a holistic understanding of water' (clarification added; [8]). ...
... McGregor [8] argues that 'the major strength of First Nations involvement and input [in water governance] is the consideration of values, ethics, and knowledge that provide a holistic understanding of water' (clarification added; [8]). A similar sentiment is issued by Simms et al. [6] who write that many Indigenous communities view water as something spiritual, medicinal and the 'life-blood of the land' [6]. Rather than reframe existing water governance principles using Western methodologies in areas of WaSH, there must be equal participation of Indigenous expertise and ways of knowing such that altered principles can be adhered to by all transparently. ...
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Meaningful lessons about decolonising water infrastructure (social, economic and political) can be learned if we scrutinise existing governance principles such as the ones provided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2021's Principles on Water Governance. Instead of using only Western frameworks to think about policy within Indigenous spheres of water, sanitation and hygiene, the Government of Canada can look to Indigenous ways of knowing to complement their understanding of how to govern areas of water, sanitation and hygiene efficiently. In this paper, the term Indigenous encompasses First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations. This paper is presented as a step out of many towards decolonising water governance in Canada, and is intended to show that it is necessary to make space for other voices in water governance. By highlighting the dangers in the case studies, three lessons are apparent: (1) there needs to be an addition of Indigenous Two-Eyed Seeing in water governance; (2) Canada must strengthen its nation-to-nation praxis with Indigenous communities; and (3) there needs to be a creation of space in water, sanitation and hygiene that fosters Indigenous voices. This is necessary such that there can be equal participation in policy conversations to mitigate existing problems and explore new possibilities.
... To date, efforts to align scales of environmental decision-making with scales of ecological impacts have been hindered by underlying power imbalances between colonial and Indigenous governments, which become obstacles to effective environmental decision-making (Goetze 2005;Tipa and Welch 2006;Kotaska 2013;Simms et al. 2016;Atlas et al. 2020;Eckert et al. 2020;Thompson et al. 2020). Hierarchical social relations continue to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of their lands and selfdetermining authority (Curran et al. 2020). ...
... However, these collaborative decision-making approaches are not without challenges. In many cases, colonial governments remain reluctant to share authority with Indigenous Peoples or, in instances where co-governance has been established, fail to substantively acknowledge Indigenous rights, knowledge, governance authority, and legal systems (Klain et al. 2014;Simms et al. 2016;Bennett et al. 2017;Curran et al. 2020). For example, in the Yukon Territory in northern Canada, modern land claim and self-government agreements acknowledge Yukon First Nations as an order of government in Canada with jurisdiction over clearly defined territories. ...
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Mismatches between institutions and social–ecological systems (SESs) are one of the foremost challenges in natural resource management. However, while mismatches are often cited in the literature as a major challenge, empirical evidence of mismatches and their consequences is limited. This is particularly true for complex SESs, such as on the Pacific Coast of North America, where salmon drive interactions across multiple environments, jurisdictions, and scales. Here, I use the theoretical concept of fit to examine institutional alignment in a large-scale Pacific salmon SES, the Skeena River watershed in British Columbia, Canada. Utilizing Canadian federal environmental assessments as a proxy for colonial environmental governance institutions, I describe the common causes and consequences of mismatches between institutions and salmon SESs. This case study suggests that mismatches are threatening salmon sustainability and negatively affecting Indigenous People’s rights, livelihoods, and approaches to resource management and stewardship. I argue that improving social–ecological fit in salmon SESs will require new or revitalized forms of environmental governance that consciously fit the underlying social–ecological dynamics. While these findings are based on the Skeena River watershed, they may be generalizable to other salmon SESs in which mismatches between social and ecological processes and institutions exist.
... Households would join community water associations mostly because of the benefit of unlimited water access. Studies have previously shown that WRUAs provide a good opportunity for involvement of relevant stakeholders and beneficiaries in corporate management and conservation of water resources (Koigi, 2017;Simms et al., 2016). ...
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Effective water governance ought to involve the manner in which allocative and regulatory politics are exercised in the management of water resource, and should embrace the formal and informal institutions by which authority is exercised. In Lower Thiba Sub-catchment of Kenya, slightly over 70% of the population in the area depend on water for irrigation purposes. This study explored how the existing legal instruments and institutions affect water governance in the area. Data was collected from 361 respondents using questionnaires, 9 key informant interviews, 5 focus group discussions, as well as direct observations. The data were analyzed through descriptive statistics using Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) Software. The results showed that 87% (P≤0.05) of the respondents were aware that they need to protect water resources, though only 50% reported a supportive attitude. This can be explained by the fact that river water is accessible throughout the year to most farmers, hence the need to conserve water is not urgent. 76% of the respondents were aware of existing water sector government institutions and rules in existence. Awareness of the water sector laws was at 68% while compliance to the same was at 80% (P≤0.05). Low awareness level of the public at 65% and weak enforcement from the regulators (20%) were cited as major reasons for non- compliance to the existing water rules. Main enforcement agencies were the water committees at 50% (P≤0.05), formed from water users associations in the area. In all, 56% of the respondents felt that the existing legal and institutional frameworks governing water were effective. Only 51% were members of community water institutions, with WRUA having the highest membership of 44% across the sub-catchment. Based on the findings, the study concluded that there is need for strengthening community involvement in water governance, enhancing capacity building to the surrounding community, and enforcement of water conservation and management laws within the sub-catchment.
... First, the concept of the watershed is usually multiscale [29,30]. Studies vary at the global scale, concentrating on large watersheds (for example, oceans) [31], global trends (for example, global warming) [32], and international cooperation [33], to the local scale, concentrating on a single watershed (for example, lake or wetland) [34], local specific context (for example, pollution or urbanization) [35], and local governance [36]. There is still a lack of multiscalar understanding of watersheds. ...
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Watersheds are critical natural systems that serve as the foundation for sustaining life on Earth [1]. They play a vital role in the hydrological cycle, supporting water supply, agriculture, ecosystems, and biodiversity [2,3,4,5,6]. However, Anthropocene has presented challenges to watersheds, including deforestation, land-use changes, pollution, and climate change [7,8]. To maximize the resilience of watersheds, it is essential to implement sustainable land-use practices and effective watershed management strategies [9]. Consequently, understanding watersheds’ complex dynamics and their response to natural and anthropogenic stressors is essential for sustainable development and the well-being of human societies. The advent of remote sensing has revolutionized watershed research, providing unprecedented insights into watershed dynamics and spatiotemporal patterns [10,11]. These techniques offer breakthrough advantages over traditional field-based methods, including covering large areas with low cost and high efficiency, monitoring remote and inaccessible regions, and obtaining data at different spatial, spectral, and temporal resolutions [12,13,14]. More specifically, remote sensing of watersheds encompasses a wide range of applications that involve acquiring and utilizing hydrological, ecological, and environmental information in watersheds [15,16,17], including watershed mapping [18], monitoring of underlying surface elements in the watershed [19], inversion of water cycle parameters [20], water resource assessment [21], acquisition of watershed ecological environment parameters [22], monitoring natural disasters [23], analyzing upstream and downstream [24], supporting water governance priorities [25], water resource development [26], and irrigation water management [27]. Recent research trends show that the application of remote sensing techniques has been transiting from mapping, monitoring, and assessment to governance and management [28], calling for deeper and wider explorations on related research focus.
... Therefore, the results show that, considering the welcome of the target community in comprehensive and active participation in meeting the water challenges in the field, special attention to the governance dimension and increasing participatory mechanisms in formulating and implementing management options will be fruitful. This finding has also been emphasized in the studies of Simms et al. (2016), Empinotti et al. (2018) and Barati et al. (2019). ...
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The water shortage crisis that is sweeping the world today has posed serious harm and threat to people around the world. Meanwhile, Iran is one of the water-scarce countries due to its location in arid and semi-arid belt and fluctuations in rainfall. The pervasive nature of water and the existence of numerous human and environmental factors affecting its reliability have greatly complicated the interactions between the human-environment dimensions. Therefore, there is a need to merge knowledge from the social and natural sciences. In this regard, this study aimed to provide a water security conceptual model in the Neishabour plain watershed by combining a framework for Human - Environmental System (HES) interactions and System Dynamic (SD) aproach in relation to the concept of water security. For this purpose, a qualitative research method consists of combined an initial conceptual model with a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) obtained from interviews with the key research community was used to present relationships and develop a conceptual model of water security. The results show that understanding the hierarchical levels of environmental awareness and ultimately learning and practice based on key components and interactions identified by the HES framework, facilitates the analysis of system complexity. In this regard, if water resources management organization pay attention to the factors affecting the concept of water security, by using and implementing the conceptual model presented in this study, it is possible to improve the compatibility capacity and develop effective operational plans with correct and timely pathology to achieved more stable and comprehensive water resources management in the watersheds.
... The interaction between multiple actors in the five cities remained confusing, the cooperative relationship was not stable, and there is a large room for improvement. This is also in line with previous studies [50]. Due to the conflict between the externality of watershed governance and the division of administrative areas, WCG among different administrative regions has always been a thorny problem. ...
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Owing to the publicity and externality of watershed governance, collaborative governance among cities has become an inevitable choice to improve watershed governance performance and promote sustainable development of watersheds. Existing studies have provided many enlightenment on promoting watershed collaborative governance (WCG), while most of them investigated WCG from single or several dimensions with scanty quantitative empirical studies. Against this background, this study aims to establish a comprehensive WCG research framework involving multiple phases and diverse actors to empirically measure the synergy degree of WCG. Specifically, this study constructs a WCG index system composed of resource investment, open cooperation, and performance supervision subsystems that involves actors of government, enterprise, and the public. Using the complex system synergy model, an empirical analysis is performed to evaluate the synergy degree of Taihu Basin collaborative governance among and within cities in Jiangsu province, China during 2014–2020. The results reveal that the Tai Basin collaborative governance among cities was still in the run-in adaptation stage, which was primarily constrained by the discrete open cooperation subsystems among cities. The synergy degree of Taihu Basin collaborative governance within cities presented significant differences. Several targeted implications are proposed according to the results. This study provides a comprehensive index system for synergy degree measurement of WCG and could offer effective guidance for policymakers to design effective strategies for improving WCG performance.
... For Indigenous peoples, BC is a distinct region whose circumstances give rise to a set of modern challenges to governance (Simms et al., 2016). Most of BC is unceded Aboriginal territory, whereby the land was never surrendered, relinquished or handed over to the Crown through formal treaty processes. ...
This study employs, for the first time, a science mapping approach for understanding how water governance science is socially, intellectually and conceptually structured. The research collaboration, co-citation and keyword co-occurrence networks were illustrated by these steps: data retrieval, preprocessing, network extraction, normalization, mapping, analysis and visualization. The Netherlands, the United States, Germany, the UK, Canada and Australia were found to be major countries collaborating on water governance. Three groups of water governance research were identified to be focused on governance, management and policy, respectively, and water governance research mainly studied issues such as poverty, privatization and institutions.
Different childhood experiences, including those that involve abuse, violence, and being removed from the home and placed in government care can have lingering effects that last into adulthood. In particular, they can affect the ability to form relationships and trust later in life. This study uses 2014 Canadian General Social Survey data to test whether a history of abuse, violence, and being in care is associated with levels of trust across three relational variables -- trust in family, neighbourhood people, and strangers -- using a series of logistic regression models. Results indicate that levels of trust vary for those with such histories and depend on the relationship in question. Trust is highest for family, then neighbours, then strangers. People who were in care had lower trust in family and strangers, people who experienced physical or sexual abuse had lower trust in family, neighbours, and strangers, and people who witnessed parental violence had lower trust in family and neighbours. In addition, people who identified as Indigenous reported lower trust in family and neighbours than people who did not identify as Indigenous. These findings contribute to knowledge of the long-term effects of abuse, violence, and having been in care, offering practical implications for those working with children, and those working within the child welfare system.
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In Canada, the water crisis increasingly felt around the world is being experienced primarily in small, usually Indigenous, communities. At the heart of this issue lies an ongoing struggle to have Indigenous voices heard in the decision-making processes that affect their lives, lands, and waters. As part of ancient systems of Traditional Knowledge (TK), Indigenous people bear the knowledge and the responsibility to care for the waters upon which they depend for survival. A series of internationally developed documents has supported Indigenous peoples’ calls for increased recognition of the importance of TK in resolving environmental crises, including those involving water. Ontario provincial and Canadian federal governments have been developing legislative and regulatory documents to help fend off further water-related catastrophes within their jurisdictions. Despite such efforts, a number of barriers to the successful and appropriate involvement of TK in water management remain. Based on years of community-based and policy-related research with First Nations people involved in water-related undertakings, this article highlights progress made to date, and provides Indigenous viewpoints on what further steps need to be taken. Key among these steps are the need to restore and maintain Indigenous access to traditional territories and ways of life, and the requirement for mutually respectful collaboration between TK and Western science.
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The purpose of this discussion is to describe the worldview and sacred relationship of the Cree people in Alberta, as well as how colonial policy has created despair (pomewin) in Aboriginal communities and a state of disconnectedness from the water. It concludes with the presentation of a framework for the development of policies that seek to repair the relationship between Aboriginal people and mainstream society – with the potential to create the good life, broadly defined (pimatisiwin) for all Albertans (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal). This discussion is based upon the findings of a three-year research project entitled “The Sacred Relationship”. The goals of the project were three-fold: to describe the Aboriginal People of Alberta’s sacred relationship with water, to articulate the Indigenous science practices of Aboriginal people, and to find common ground between Western and Indigenous science.
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The governance of water resources is prominent in both water policy agendas and academic scholarship. Political ecologists have made important advances in reconceptualising the relationship between water and society. Yet while they have stressed both the scalar dimensions and the politicised nature of water governance, analyses of its scalar politics are relatively nascent. In this paper, we consider how the increased demand for water resources by the growing mining industry in Peru reconfigures and rescales water governance. In Peru, the mining industry's thirst for water draws in and reshapes social relations, technologies, institutions, and discourses that operate over varying spatial and temporal scales. We develop the concept of waterscape to examine these multiple ways in which water is co-produced through mining, often beyond the watershed scale. We argue that an examination of waterscapes avoids the limitations of thinking about water in purely material terms, structuring analysis of water issues according to traditional spatial scales and institutional hierarchies, and taking these scales and structures for granted.
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Conclusions drawn from the body of co-management research generally agree that cultural diversity can enhance the pool of human resources from which management decisions are drawn. Based on the belief that group heterogeneity will generate a diverse set of problem-based solutions, co-management is being heralded as an emergent intellectual tradition to guide the stewardship of natural resources. However, research has yet to show under what conditions and at what cultural consequence indigenous representatives are able to express themselves. Nor has it been shown how cultural biases, including perceptions of the 'other,'influence group behavior. Based on research involving the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation (Yukon Territory), this paper explores whether cultural differences either enhance or hinder the working-group effectiveness of resource co-management boards established under Canada's comprehensive land claims process. In doing so, we identify some of the 'hidden' conflicts that can occur when culturally diverse groups, with fundamentally different value systems and colonial histories, enter into a coordinated resource management process.
This article reports and takes up Aboriginal perspectives on co-management that highlight the intrinsic linkages between the environmental and socio-political dimensions of natural resources. In doing so, it explores the capacity of comanagement to address Aboriginal claims for self-determination and increased control over traditional territories within liberal-democratic state systems. Analysis of the Interim Measures Agreement between the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and British Columbia demonstrates how co-management involving Aboriginal peoples in a negotiated framework of substantive power-sharing provides a venue for augmented levels of confidence in indigenous-state decision-making processes. Additionally, it advances Aboriginal participants' rights claims against the state. Negotiating such "empowered" co-management represents a positive shift in relations between indigenous peoples and governments within settler states in the absence of constitutional change.
The United States is one of the few nations of the world to provide distinctive and apparently robust legal recognition to the water rights of its indigenous peoples. On rivers in the arid, western United States where most ethnic groups reside, indigenous peoples have rights to water that are superior to those of their nonindigenous neighbors. If dominant societies do not extend legal dignity to the water rights of indigenous peoples, this can impede or doom their struggle to hold and use their territories. The integrity of these territories is essential to indigenous cultures and livelihood strategies. Yet the protection of the so-called Indian water rights in the United States remains an imperfect model. The apparently generous recognition of significant legal rights for indigenous peoples to water for their lands and families has produced more paper documenting legal rights than usable water for indigenous peoples and lands. A fundamental problem is that legal rights were announced a century ago, but after that the national government and the states, whose laws dominate water allocation, promoted non-Indian use of water. Nowadays, if local Indian kinship groups attempt to use the large quantities of water to which the law entitles them, they face formidable economic and political barriers because non-Indians are already using most of the water. The principles of Indian water rights-as developed in the legal system of the Unites States-were created to advance national policies, not simply to achieve justice for indigenous peoples or ensure the survival of their cultures. As is often the case, the realization of the law's beneficence in the future will depend on the dominant culture's willingness to make readjustments that affect negatively the nonindigenous majority of water users. To many, Indian water rights seem anomalous (see chapter 5 for a parallel situation in the Andes). Whether courts and politicians will honor those rights is a test of their commitment to the rule of law and willingness to comprehend justice in the light of cultural values alien to the dominant culture. So far, the results are mixed. The courts have modified Indian water rights in some cases rather than enforce them fully. The federal and state governments, however, have shown some willingness to invest money in protecting and developing Indian water uses-so long as non-Indian uses are preserved in the process. Those seeking to learn from the United States experience with indigenous water rights, like those attempting to improve the application of the system in the United States, confront the classic moral struggle between realpolitik and theoretical concepts of justice and morality. The advantage of paper rights to water, even if they promise more than they deliver, is that they provide an open door to the legal system, allowing the intercultural dialogue to begin there and not outside the system. The struggle to apply them in a way that ensures cultural and socioeconomic survival continues, nonetheless. In this chapter I will first discuss United States Indian law and policy. Second, I will look at Indian legal rights against the background of changing and conflicting policies. I will focus here on the theory and practice of Indian rights, conflicts with non-Indian users, and the role of the state courts in deciding on the scope of Indian rights. In the following section I will discuss the role of negotiation as a recent alternative to litigation. Next, I will focus on a number of important current water rights issues: finality of determination of rights, water marketing, tribal water codes and administration, the use of rights for new purposes, and the mismatch between law and Indian culture. In the final section I present a short conclusion.
This paper is concerned with the rescaling of environmental governance, and with the social construction of environmental and governance scales in particular. With the aid of case-study data from Canada, it is argued that watersheds, as particular forms of rescaled environmental governance, have increased in popularity because of their status as boundary objects: that is, a common concept interpreted differently by different groups. The paper shows how particular features of the watershed approach namely, their physical size and the shared discursive framings they employ ('stakeholder' and 'integration') make the watershed concept both cohesive enough to travel among different epistemic communities, and plastic enough to be interpreted and used differently within them. As such, it is suggested that the trend of the uptake of the so-called 'watershed approach' reflects and is shaped by ideologies underpinned by three different, and occasionally competing, epistemic communities: the scientific, neoliberal, and grassroots communities. These arguments corroborate constructivist accounts of the political nature of boundary drawing, bring science into discussion on the relationship between neoliberalism and public participation, and contribute to environmental governance literatures by providing an alternative explanation for the uptake of watersheds in recent decades.