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Oct. 9, 2018

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Department of Global Studies and Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

My article "Indigenous Rights and Multilevel Governance: Learning From the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship Strategy," published in the International Indigenous Policy Journal, comes out of a collaborative project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), which examines relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the governments of settler states in the context of natural resource exploitation and conservation. In particular, that project probes the question of whether the principles located in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP) are being implemented in practice. My research took up the case of the Northwest Territories (NWT) Water Stewardship Strategy to consider this question, drawing on the concept of “multi-level governance” (MLG) to describe the processes of engagement, participation and consultation involved in the design and implementation of the Strategy.

The concept of MLG provides a way of talking about the kinds of intergovernmental interactions that we see taking place between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments in many parts of Canada, potentially leading to more collaborative decision-making in spite of the continued colonial framework of Canadian sovereignty. Participants’ experiences of the Water Strategy certainly confirmed such potential, but also pointed to significant barriers preventing Indigenous communities from being equal partners as knowledge holders and decision-makers in relation to water stewardship in their traditional territories.

Fatima Sidaoui, a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) student, worked as my research assistant, providing excellent support in transcribing interviews for this project.

During this project I was struck that the political context for these questions seems to be so different in the NWT compared to much of southern Canada—partly because 50% of the population is Indigenous. At the same time, I came to realize that many of the deeper issues of economic influence and the territorial sovereignty of the Canadian state are just as present in the North as they are anywhere else.

My next steps in this research area are a research partnership with Dehcho First Nations, which has grown out of my work with the Aboriginal Steering Committee to the Water Stewardship Strategy. This new work is exposing me directly to community perspectives on land and water stewardship, which gives me new insight into the higher-level governance work addressed in this article.

After reading the article I’d like readers to join me in celebrating efforts like the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, which move us closer to a more inclusive and collaborative way of governing human-environment relationships in Canada. At the same time, I hope readers also appreciate that achievements like the Strategy remain overshadowed by a broader unwillingness to truly respect Indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights to territory and self-determination.

I hope the work is useful for policy makers, Indigenous leaders and others who are involved in discussions around natural resource governance. While most directly relevant to the Canadian context, I believe the findings about the potential and the limits of multi-level governance are transferable to other parts of the world.

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