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October 21, 2016
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Office of Aboriginal Initiatives

First Nations Water Security and Collaborative Governance: Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, Ontario, Canada

Thesis by Sheri A. Longboat
Sheri A. Longboat

published: 2013 | Thesis | PhD Student Thesis


Water security involves a balance between resource protection and livelihood enhancement and is a critical component of social and economic development. In Canada, however, many First Nations are faced with a persistent lack of water security. Nearly one in every six First Nations community has microbiological or chemical contamination within their drinking water, and is unable to access the quality and quantity of water required to meet their basic human needs. In response, the federal government has recently developed several action plans, and increased investments to address water problems on First Nations reserves. The focus is on community capacity and the lack of water regulations as overarching issues. For First

Nations, however, water security involves more than access to potable water. Water is a sacred gift given by the Creator, First Nations people have inherent responsibilities to protect water for future generations, and these rights include water governance within traditional territories. This research investigates the interrelationships between First Nations and Western approaches to water, and the opportunities and barriers to collaboration in water governance, with the goal of enhancing First Nations water security.

Four main objectives guided this research: 1) to identify the critical concerns for water in First Nations communities and the challenges for First Nations water security; 2) to investigate First Nations knowledge systems and management institutions for how they may support enhanced community-level water security; 3) to conduct a targeted in-depth examination of the challenges to enhancing water security with respect to federal, provincial and First Nations water institutions and arrangements; and 4) to develop strategies based on best practices for more effective water collaboration through integration of the key concepts, empirical evidence and new research findings. The Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework guided the research inquiry, and conceptual underpinnings drew from water security, water governance, integrated water resource management, Indigenous approaches, institutional theory, and collaboration literatures.

During 2010 and 2011, a single case study was conducted with the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (KSPFN), located in southwestern Ontario. The case study included two embedded units of analysis: the First Nation community and the wider water governance context. Forty semi-structured interviews were conducted with First Nations Elders, and First Nations, federal, provincial, and municipal water actors. Nearly 100 documents were gathered, interviews were coded using QSR NVivo 9, and data triangulation among these sources aided the identification of common trends, themes and patterns from which the discussion and conclusions were generated.

This research offers several empirical and conceptual contributions. Interview results and data analysis of the KSPFN concerns and challenges identified eight areas of critical water security concerns: surface and groundwater quality, monitoring and environmental enforcement, invasive species and aquatic ecology, human health and uncertainty, lake levels and withdrawals, water and wastewater system, Stony Point water, and aboriginal rights and involvement. Challenges to KSPFN water security were found to relate to water governance on First Nations reserves, including: actor interaction, governance structure, financial arrangements, laws and regulations, and community factors. A second group of challenges was found that relate more specifically to broader water governance in Canada. These include rights and jurisdiction, water collaboration, legislation and regulations, and social-economic factors.

The research also revealed that the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point have a long history within their traditional territory along the southern shore of Lake Huron. As Anishinabek people, traditional culture involved a livelihood and land-based economy that was dependent on a sacred and harmonious relationship with water. Codes of behaviour for appropriate relationships with all of nature were transmitted through a combination of informal institutions (e.g., ceremonies, stories) and social-political structures (e.g., clan governance). Although the influence of Western institutions has altered the traditional relationship with water for many Anishinabek people, traditional approaches can support current water security in key areas: value of water, guiding principles, collaborative governance, informal institutions, integration and systems understanding, and sustainability practices.

Overall, First Nations water security was found to involve a range of traditional and contemporary views about water use and protection. This research widens the conceptual lens for examining First Nations water security and asserts that it involves three interdependent and embedded dimensions or conceptual units of analysis: ecological, social-political, and technical. Each dimension emphasizes a critical component of First Nations water security and the scope of governance actions to begin addressing First Nations water concerns and challenges. The research also highlights the utility of the IAD framework for examining the role institutions play in First Nations water security within the multi-level, fragmented and overlapping water jurisdictions characteristic of water governance in Canada. Lastly, the results yielded an adapted IAD framework that illustrates the influence federal, provincial and municipal water institutions have on water security actions available to First Nations water actors.

The research provides key insights and pathways to water security and overall recommendations for water security actors. The analysis presents seven suggested pathways to water security that require constitutional, collective-choice and operational level actions. The pathways include a collaborative relationship among actors committed to water security, equitable and legitimate involvement of First Nations in water governance, First Nations rights in formal water institutions (e.g., recognition of First Nations values in water laws), a regulatory framework for drinking water to fill the regulatory gap supported by appropriate funding arrangements, new collaborative approaches for policy making, greater local control over community land and resource management, and expanded informal collaboration among First Nations and a variety of actors and organizations (e.g., municipal, academic).

Six overall recommendations act as potential starting points to enable the pathways to water security. Recommendations involve immediate actions around the development of a nationwide strategy for water security on First Nations reserves, First Nations articulation of indigenous approaches to water, formal identification of the role the Province of Ontario plays (or should play) in First Nations water security, and proactive exploration of collaborative opportunities among First Nations and municipalities. Also recommended are long-term actions that involve federal and provincial constitutional-level clarification and formal articulation of the interpretation of First Nations water-related rights, horizontal and vertical coordination among water governance institutions and processes based on a vision for water security, expanded economic opportunities for First Nations communities, and overall, education and awareness of the general public as advocates for collective action for social change and water governance reform.

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revised Apr 22/13

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