Water governance and Indigenous governance: Towards a synthesis


  • Suzanne von der Porten University of Waterloo
  • Rob de Loë University of Waterloo


In Canada, Indigenous peoples have sui generis rights and millennia of stewardship on their traditional homelands. However, non-Indigenous understandings of those sui generis rights, let alone knowledge of Indigenous history, Indigenous knowledge, and understanding of Indigenous governance and self-determination goals, is generally poor in Canadian society. This paper explores the conceptual gap that exists between underlying principles, values and norms of Indigenous governance within the specific context of contemporary water governance in Canada. The province of British Columbia, Canada is used as an empirical setting to illustrate the issues considered. In this province, numerous organizations involved are attempting to collaborate with First Nations peoples to address water issues. This paper questions the underlying assumptions in the collaborative governance literature relative to assertions surrounding self-determination found in Indigenous governance scholarship. We conclude (1) that both the scholarship and the practice of water governance do not sufficiently address concerns relating to Indigenous governance, Indigenous pre-and post-colonial history, and varying concepts of self-determination, and (2) the ability of collaborative processes to address current and emerging governance challenges in the water realm depends in part on the extent to which assumptions held by non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples can be reconciled.


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