How Can Communities Manage Watershed Information, Knowledge & Data?

Exploring wise solutions for “WIKD” problems in the Cowichan watershed

Published On: December 6th, 2023

On October 19th, Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Watershed Board co-hosted the one-day workshop “Watershed Information, Knowledge, and Data (WIKD): Exploring Wise Solutions” at the Siem Lelum Gymnasium on Quw’utsun (Cowichan Tribes) territory in Duncan, B.C. POLIS was represented by Kelly Bannister, who gave the opening presentation, and Oliver M. Brandes, who attended in his role as advisor to the Cowichan Watershed Board.

Many regions in B.C., and across Canada, are grappling with the question of how communities can comprehensively and responsibly identify, make available, and steward WIKD—especially when there is a lot of it.

With over 25 local champions and experts working in the field in attendance, workshop participants spent the day learning about and exploring solutions to the myriad questions and challenges raised by the extensive WIKD that exists for the Cowichan region. The ultimate goal is to determine the best options and opportunities for local integration and possibilities into the future.

The gathering was opened by Philomena Williams (Quw’utsun Elder; Member, Cowichan Watershed Board) with prayer, encouragement, and a loving lesson on Hul’q’umi’num’ pronunciation to help attendees learn to say and hear the nuanced sounds in the language of the land. Elder Philomena acknowledged the challenges inherent in combining our different ways of understanding the watershed, and that “it only works when we help each other.”

Workshop facilitator, Lisa Fox offered background on the Cowichan Watershed Board’s goals for stewarding the watersheds and sharing responsibility. The Board works toward these goals by building and strengthening relationships between different water users in the watershed, sharing stories and studies, and finding best-fit tools, all of which can help create shared understandings to inform watershed-scale decision-making that improves watershed health. Having a good system for managing and accessing WIDK will be an important part of this ongoing work.

Kelly Bannister’s presentation helped set the context for the day. Drawing on her work in intercultural ethics, she offered some conceptual and ethical frameworks for sharing information, knowledge, and data across Western and Indigenous knowledge systems, drawing from illustrative examples that she has been involved in. She also pointed to the broader national ethics policy landscape and principles relevant to WIKD decisions and governance, as well as the teachings in the local Xwulqw’selu (Koksilah) Watershed Planning Agreement. Her main takeaways were:

  1. Create intentional spaces to unpack assumptions that could lead to misunderstandings—beginning with the acronym “WIKD.” Humans have a need to simplify, but we can’t let convenience in communicating give us a false impression that we all mean the same thing. Information, data, knowledge, and wisdom may not be understood or represented in the same way across Western and Indigenous knowledge systems.
  2. WIKD work inherently requires intercultural collaboration—which needs to be grounded in shared principles and values that translate to relational and accountable processes.
  3. Ensure the integrity of Indigenous knowledge systems is upheld—in designing an integrated system for sharing, managing, and using WIKD, we have responsibilities to protect the integrity of Indigenous knowledge from being misunderstood, misrepresented, or misused.

Local biologist Cheri Ayers and Dr. Tom Gleeson (Project Lead, Xwulqw’selu Connections, University of Victoria) offered additional context by presenting on the current state of watershed information, knowledge, and data in the Cowichan region. They also discussed the emerging local 100-year vision for the watershed and the monitoring and data collection work currently being done by the Xwulqw’selu Connections project.

Several technical experts from projects across the province were also invited to present. They introduced the group to several options for data management systems, portals, platforms, and data hubs, as well as lessons learned from other regions that could help inform WIKD solutions for the Cowichan region.

By the end of the workshop, participants had identified the most needed and feasible interim and longer-term options for the Cowichan Watershed Board to consider in its deliberations for finding wise solutions to the WIKD challenges. The POLIS team will continue to support these efforts as the work continues to unfold.

Related Links

Indigenous Knowledge Aspects of Community-Based Water Monitoring & Data Management (April 2022)

Water Data Management: Planning & Sharing (January 2022)

Water Data Management for Regional Community-Based Water Monitoring Groups (October 2021)

What’s Beneath the Surface? Insights into Collaborative Water Monitoring Data and Decision-Making (March 2019)