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Integrating Indigenous And Western Knowledge And Research To Improve Water Management In Canada

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Heather Castleden, Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Sherilee Harper, Debbie Martin, Catherine Hart, Robert Stefanelli, Kaitlin Lauridsen, Lindsay Day
Queen's University1, Cape Breton University2, University of Guelph3, Dalhousie University4

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
Abstract

While the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right in 2010, the global community may by surprised to learn that in Canada, a nation perceived by many to have an abundant supply, there are gross disparities in terms of access and quality between Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) and non-Indigenous Canadians. In short, water-related issues (unsafe drinking water, and improperly functioning wastewater and storm water systems) and water-related threats (drought, flooding, and contaminants) disproportionately burden Indigenous communities in Canada. Despite millions of dollars in research support and activities targeting the problem, the predominant modes of research and action seeking to rectify these injustices have been largely unsuccessful in delivering/implementing systems and resources to improve water conditions in Indigenous communities. This failure can be partly attributed to the fact that government agencies and researchers have relied solely on methods of Western science, ignoring the vast place-based wisdom of Indigenous knowledge systems.

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of applying Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous methodologies to water challenges and, more broadly, to water management across Canada. Yet, strategies for successfully integrating knowledge systems and approaches within the context of water management are only beginning to emerge. In an attempt to respond to this gap in knowledge and practice, a transdisciplinary team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and knowledge-holders, funded by the Canadian Water Network Centre of Excellence, came together to examine the question: How best can Indigenous methodologies and knowledges be used in an integrative way with innovations in Western science, engineering, and policy to support the effective design, delivery, and management of drinking, waste water, and storm water systems? In so doing, this project seeks to systematically identify, understand, and assess how Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous methodologies have been integrated into water management projects, evaluating the relative merits, strengths, challenges and opportunities of various approaches, techniques and frameworks by investigating several questions: what worked and what did not in previous research in Canada attempting to integrate knowledge systems; how were benefits perceived and actualized; what were the findings, implications, and conclusions of previous studies that have sought to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and methodologies; and finally, how (or were) Indigenous perspectives and methodologies integrated into the research or management processes in ways that were culturally appropriate, and, that ultimately helped promote effective water policy, governance, and/or decision-making?

A National Advisory Committee of Indigenous and non-Indigenous water knowledge-holders have guided the project, providing their direction, and expertise. To respond to our research questions, the team has conducted three main data-generating strategies: 1) a National Water Gathering, which brought together over forty Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, experts, and traditional knowledge-holders from across Canada to share their stories and experiences with water, and to help determine appropriate and relevant means of evaluating past water resource management research and practice that has included (or attempted to include) Indigenous knowledges or methodologies from multiple perspectives; 2) a modified systematic realist review, which examined knowledge integration strategies and best practices for water management; and 3) in-depth interviews with key informants (water researchers, managers, and Indigenous peoples) who have been involved in "exemplar" projects across Canada to examine what has worked, what could be improved, and ideas for moving forward.

The purpose of this presentation will be to present our key findings, identifying the strengths and opportunities, models and methods, discrepancies and challenges of applying Indigenous/traditional and Western knowledge/science in an integrative way in the field of water research and management. Preliminary analysis suggests three key shortfalls in integrative knowledge approaches exist. These include the reality that (1) Indigenous peoples' emotions, relationships, and ties to water and land are often ignored during current research and management processes; (2) Indigenous knowledge is not valued in and of itself and this dilemma manifests in research designs and the approach of non-Indigenous researchers to their projects and the Indigenous communities they work with; and finally (3) water-related research is often not situated within a larger, holistic understanding of water and its multiple uses, its intrinsic value, or its dynamic living nature. Emphasis will be placed on the process of engaging in this research, specifically, working with the National Advisory Council and Indigenous knowledge-holders to move knowledge to action, and key recommendations will be shared that are intended to be useful to Indigenous communities, researchers, policy-makers, consultants, governments, and others when developing water research and water management decision-making and practice in Canada and beyond.

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