The POLIS team congratulates Cowichan Tribes and the Province of British Columbia on the signing of the Xwulqw’selu Watershed Planning Agreement (S-xats-thut tst—We Agree) on May 12th, 2023. With the signing of this Agreement, Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government are launching a historic multi-year watershed planning process, including work to develop (and then implement) the first Water Sustainability Plan in B.C.
Our team celebrates this important milestone for water and watersheds, alongside Chief Lydia Hwitsum (Cowichan Tribes) and Minister Nathan Cullen (B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship), and the Cowichan Tribes Elders, youth, community members, and project staff and supporters who have championed this work over many years. In addition to Minister Cullen, staff from a number of related provincial ministries were also in attendance, which demonstrates the importance and scope of this historic Agreement and the work ahead.
“The Xwulqw’selu watershed is under pressure and we know the current path is not sustainable—for fish, for the ecosystem, or for people,” said Chief Lydia Hwitsum, Cowichan Tribes. “We need to come together to develop a plan that protects the watershed’s health and sustains Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Valley communities for generations to come.”
The Agreement, and the Water Sustainability Plan it sets into motion, is precedent-setting. It commits Cowichan Tribes and the Province of B.C. to an ongoing, long-term governance relationship, and it represents a significant opportunity to innovate and reform watershed management, and to realize co-governance and express Indigenous laws and knowledge.
“It really is a historic moment,” said Oliver M. Brandes, Project Lead at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project. “The Water Sustainability Plan will ultimately take a whole-of-watershed approach and focus on the fundamental importance of water sustainability and watershed security to address significant and interlinked concerns in the watershed—like water availability, low flows, critical fish habitat, Indigenous cultural resources, and other identified issues. It will put in place comprehensive, cumulative, and adaptive management processes to improve watershed governance and deal systematically with root causes, not just symptoms.”
The Agreement is informed by 11 Quw’utsun snuw’uy’ulh (teachings) and ensures that local Indigenous values will guide the process and provide a foundation for an enduring and respectful co-governance relationship. For example, Nutsamat kws yaay’us tth qa’—We come together as a whole to work together to be stronger as partners for the watershed.
“The Province and Cowichan Tribes share a responsibility to protect the Xwulqw’selu Watershed,” said Nathan Cullen, B.C. Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. “Through this landmark Agreement, we will continue to work together to make shared decisions on the watershed and ensure it is sustainably managed now, and into the future.”
Since February 2020, Cowichan Tribes and provincial government partners have done extensive work together to gain a holistic and comprehensive understanding of community priorities and issues in the watershed, and to build a collaborative government-to-government relationship.
The POLIS team will continue to be active supporters of this effort going forward. Our team has been involved as long-term advisors to the Cowichan Watershed Board, and as advisors to Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government during the entire Xwulqw’selu Watershed Planning process, starting from its inception over three years ago.
“The Xwulqw’selu process will be a beacon for other regions and communities throughout B.C. Over the coming years, it will offer a real model, as well as far-reaching learnings about innovations in planning, co-governance, and possibilities for reformed water and watershed management,” said Oliver M. Brandes. “This whole process has already come a long way and much has been achieved, but a lot of the work still remains. This work is more urgent and more critical than ever, so we look forward to supporting the next milestones ahead and the real impacts on the land and in the water.”
Cowichan Tribes-Province Joint Press Release (BC Gov News)
Cowichan Tribes-Province Joint Press Release (Cowichan Tribes)
Koksilah Watershed Water Sustainability Plan Scoping Initiative website
Water Sustainability Plans: Potential, Options, and Essential Content (POLIS, 2019)