In 1993, the United Nations designated March 22nd as World Water Day. People gather to highlight the pivotal role water plays in our everyday lives and reflect on how to best manage this critical resource. In Canada, it has become custom to gather throughout that whole week (Canada Water Week), with events planned in watersheds across the country. Here at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, we were buzzing with activity throughout the whole month, as we hosted a number of events to facilitate discussion and urge action on priority water issues.
The Paris Agreement and Global Response to Climate Change
As part of the Centre for Global Studies’ Global Talks series, we were privileged to host Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May for an intimate discussion about the Paris Agreement and the global response to the threat of climate change. Her insights and expertise around the international policy and governance aspects of climate change were on full display. She shined light on the evolution of international climate change agreements and Canada’s role in the negotiations. May suggested that recent governments had dealt a blow to Canada’s role as a climate leader, undermining previously agreed-upon baselines for carbon emission and inhibiting meaningful collaboration.
With the connection between climate and water becoming increasingly obvious, May suggested that although the Paris Agreement commitment to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is an important step forward, greater action is needed from citizens and environmental groups alike. “Ultimately, the 2016 COP Paris Agreement was a success, but it won’t be enough to meaningfully combat climate change,” May stressed to the audience—a group of young researchers and established fellows and affiliates at the Centre for Global Studies, many of whom have had long careers in environmental, water, or international policy- and law-making. Several exciting opportunities and initiatives do exist, however, and May remains hopeful that with good leadership, and strong relationships among nations, real climate action can be achieved.
Exploring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
March 23rd proved to be a very busy day at POLIS headquarters. To kick things off, Aboriginal law expert Merrell-Anne Phare and former Government of the Northwest Territories MLA and Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Michael Miltenberger, gave a thought-provoking talk at the Centre for Global Studies. Merrell-Ann and Michael spoke about the historic context through which the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) was created, and Canada’s approach to (and challenges in) implementing it. Drawing on their experiences negotiating transboundary water agreements in the Mackenzie River Basin, they presented a new model for meaningful partnership with Indigenous nations: collaborative consent. Collaborative consent is a process where Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments work together from the outset on a given issue to continually achieve each other’s consent through collaborative approaches. “It is an iterative, long-term process that can, over time, help actualize co-governance,” Merrell-Ann emphasized. In the discussion that followed, a key point that emerged is that collaborative consent places a “dual onus” on both Canadian and Indigenous governments to adapt and develop new institutions to work together in respectful partnerships.
“Belo Monte: After the Flood” Film Screening and Community Q&A
The evening of March 23rd, Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger continued the conversation from their morning session, this time joined by UVic Geography Associate Professor Michele-Lee Moore at an event co-hosted by the WSP and the Water, Innovation, and Global Governance Lab. With an audience of close to 50 community members, the evening started with Victoria’s first screening of Belo Monte: After the Flood, the latest film from award-winning documentary filmmaker Todd Southgate. The film showcases the stories of Indigenous community members along the Xingu River in Brazil and their decades-long fight against the multi-billion-dollar Belo Monte hydroelectric project.
Following the sobering film, the discussion was brought closer to home. The three panellists discussed ecological governance issues occurring in Brazil and highlighted the importance of UNDRIP in similar issues in Canada—including the obvious parallels to the controversies surrounding the Site C dam, which falls within the Mackenzie Basin in Northeast British Columbia. The discussion highlighted the concerning aspects of large dam projects and poor governance leading to tragic social, economic, and environmental outcomes. However, it also highlighted areas where real collaboration has occurred with Indigenous nations on resource governance. Audience members pushed the conversation further by asking what we as individuals can do to move towards more collaborative and just partnerships with Indigenous nations. The panel’s response? Get informed, get out there, and vote. Commit yourself to decolonization no matter what your profession, and be open to innovations that create new realms of possibility.
Indigenous Water Initiatives: Achievements and Capacity Gaps
To cap off our series of World Water Day events, the WSP, the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, and the First Nations Fisheries Council co-hosted the webinar Indigenous Water Initiatives: Achievements and Capacity Gaps. This webinar painted a clear picture of the exciting momentum around Indigenous-led water governance, and emphasized the ongoing work that will be needed to drive change.
Drawing on a 2016 systematic research review of Indigenous-led freshwater planning initiatives and co-governance arrangements in B.C., Kate Cave (Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources) and Genevieve Layton-Cartier (First Nations Fisheries Council) kicked off the session by discussing provincewide trends and opportunities. Shannon Squire (P’egp’ig’lha Council/T’it’q’et First Nation) and Ashley Doyle (Kwantlen First Nation) then shared their journeys to implement or develop water initiatives in their respective nations, providing vivid and tangible examples of the daily realities involved in organizing a First Nations-led water initiative.
Shannon and Ashley’s on-the-ground illustrations gave context to the opening presentation provided by Kate and Genevieve. Results of the 2016 systematic research review show that many First Nations are developing and articulating their communities’ water values and priorities, or leading other community-based or Nation-level water initiatives, despite capacity gaps and other challenges. Kate and Genevieve talked about some of the opportunities they see for supporting Indigenous-led water initiatives, including addressing funding shortages; a possible solution is to establish government funds and/or delivery mechanisms to specifically support freshwater planning/management/collaborative initiatives for First Nations. Genevieve also pointed to a number of non-government organizations who are focusing their efforts on supporting Indigenous-led water projects.