First Nations and the shifting water governance landscape of British Columbia

As part of the newly established SSHRC funded WEPGN: Water Economics Policy and Governance Network, the Program on Water Governance will be launching a new project (2013): First Nations and the shifting water governance landscape of British Columbia.

Access to safe drinking water is something that most Canadians take for granted. In British Columbia and across Canada, however, many First Nations communities live with inadequate drinking water systems. This is not a new phenomenon, and an awareness of the situation has long existed across a range of political, academic and policy communities. First Nations water governance processes are particularly complex, with a suite of legislation and federal institutions, as well as the broader context of self-governance important for these communities. This situation raises important questions which we will address through this collaborative research effort: What are the concerns and questions raised by partner communities with respect to access to safe and reliable water? What are the possibilities and priorities for enhanced water access, monitoring, and governance envisioned in partner communities? What are the information, tools and capacity needs that communities identify to be necessary for more effective drinking water governance/management? Through attention to these questions, this research will seek to contribute to improved understandings of community-level water access/governance concerns, interactions with existing policies and programs, and Firs Nations’ perspectives on priorities for enhanced water access and governance in British Columbia. We are particularly interested in considering capacity building efforts to date (e.g. Circuit Rider Training Program) and learning from diverse opinions and perspectives, including those of youth in partner communities.

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 traditional practices, and also that these issues cannot be abstracted from broader governance challenges important for these communities.

In addition to developing collaborative partnerships with First Nations organizations and communities (a primarily initial focus of our effort in 2013), 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.

For more information please contact Rosie Simms at simms.rosie [at] gmail [dot] com

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