Indigenous Peoples and Water Governance in Canada: Regulatory Injustice and Prospects for Reform

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Bakker, Karen, Dr.; Harris, Leila, Dr; Behn, Caleb; Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference (2016 : Vancouver, B.C.)
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Fresh Water Studies; Life Sciences; Marine Biology; Natural Resources and Conservation
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High rates of resource extraction in northern and western Canada are creating intense socio-environmental pressures in the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples. Fresh water systems are particularly affected by mining, oil and gas extraction, and forestry. This, in turn, has significant impacts on Indigenous communities, including compromised access to safe drinking water, threats to environmental water quality, and related livelihood and health issues—such as access to traditional bush foods (of vital cultural and socio-economic importance, particularly in remote communities).Our paper analyzes regulatory injustice within Canada’s colonial water governance framework. We first provide an overview of the legal and regulatory architecture of environmental and water governance in Canada, with specific examples of the disjuncture between colonial (Western) law and Indigenous water laws. We illustrate our conceptual points through two short case studies of water governance in the province of British Columbia. We then explore constructive responses, focusing on the potential for Indigenous water co-governance—concluding with some concrete suggestions for reform.