First Nations and the shifting water governance landscape of British Columbia

As part of the SSHRC-funded WEPGN: Water Economics Policy and Governance Network, the Program on Water Governance began a new project in 2013: First Nations and the shifting water governance landscape of British Columbia

Project team:

Leila HarrisEmma Norman; Rosie Simms

Contact: For more information please contact: simms.rosie [at] gmail [dot] com.

Project Rationale & Objectives:

This project explores some of the interactions between First Nations and water governance in the context of British Columbia. There are several factors motivating this research. First, First Nations across Canada have clearly articulated that water and water governance are a priority area of concern. There is also increasing recognition that many water issues, including those pertaining to First Nations in B.C., can be attributed to failures of governance. Improving water governance practices is thus critical to achieving more just and sustainable water resource management. Finally, there are currently shifts unfolding in water governance in British Columbia, with replacement of the now century-old Water Act with the new Water Sustainability Act, and a growing impetus to pursue a watershed-based collaborative governance approach – which have significant implications for First Nations.

Against this backdrop, this collaborative project focuses on shifting roles and experiences of First Nations in water governance in British Columbia, historically and at present. This includes addressing questions such as:

  • What are the historical precedents of water governance and access for First Nations reserves in B.C., and how were different First Nations were affected by previous water governance frameworks?
  • What experiences, barriers, and strategic sites of engagement do First Nations encounter within the existing water governance landscape in B.C.?
  • What are the information, tools and capacity needs that communities identify to be necessary for more effective water governance/management?

Through approaching these questions, the research seeks to contribute to improved understandings of community-level water access/governance concerns; interactions with existing policies and programs; and First Nations’ perspectives on priorities for enhanced water access and governance in British Columbia.

Research framework:

This project will be guided by an environmental justice framework, and involves a commitment by the researchers and PoWG to engage collaboratively with communities. First Nations have articulated their strong ties to water and recognize it as a vital and sacred resource for sustaining health and culture. Working towards these issues in the context of water justice begins first with acknowledgment of First Nations’ inherent right to govern their water resources in accordance with cultural preferences and practices, and also that these issues cannot be abstracted from broader governance challenges important for these communities.

Outputs:

  1. Simms, R. (2015). First Nations reserve drinking water issues in Canada: A governance primer. Vancouver, BC: UBC Program on Water Governance.
  2. Simms, R. (2015). Indigenous water governance in British Columbia and Canada: Annotated bibliography. Vancouver, BC: UBC Program on Water Governance.
  3. Harris, L. & Simms, R. (2016). “All of the water that is in our reserves and that is in our territories is ours”: Colonial and indigenous water governance in unceded indigenous territories in British Columbia. Project Brief. Canadian Water Network & WEPGN. French version available here.
  4. Harris, L. & Simms, R. (2016). “All of the water that is in our reserves and that is in our territories is ours”: Colonial and indigenous water governance in unceded indigenous territories in British Columbia. Project Report. Canadian Water Network & WEPGN. French version available here.

Partners:

In addition to developing collaborative partnerships with First Nations organizations and communities, confirmed project partners include the  Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the National Network on Environment and Women’s Health, the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, and Environment Canada.

Project status:
This project is ongoing