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New report assesses implications of UNDRIP on water governance in Canada

Thursday, September 28, 2017

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Canada’s plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) will require substantial changes in how we make decisions affecting water, according to a new report co-authored by West Coast Environmental Law and the University of British Columbia.

The report, produced as part of the Decolonizing Water initiative and supported by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, examines existing research and knowledge from leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinkers on the issue to support dialogue on implementing UNDRIP with respect to fresh water issues in Canada. It concludes that meeting the requirements laid out in UNDRIP will require more collaborative and proactive processes which uphold Indigenous decision-making authority with respect to water.

“Canada has an opportunity to reset the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in a way that genuinely promotes reconciliation, rather than reproducing the harmful approaches to resource management that we’ve seen in the past,” said Hannah Askew, Staff Counsel with West Coast Environmental Law and the lead author of the report.

“With Canada’s repeated commitments to implement UNDRIP, and ongoing legal conflicts involving Indigenous nations working to defend their waters from industrial projects like the Site C Dam or Trans Mountain pipeline, resolving issues of consultation and consent should be a priority for the federal government,” Askew added.

One of the key elements of UNDRIP – and perhaps the most controversial – is the requirement to achieve free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples affected by proposed development in their territories. While the controversy over FPIC typically stems from the question of whether it constitutes a “veto,” the report finds that this controversy may be avoided if, rather than approaching consent as an after-the-fact “yes or no” question, Indigenous peoples are involved at the very beginning of a project or process where their rights might be affected, as true partners in a nation-to-nation relationship guiding the decision-making process.

In addition to this report, West Coast has published a comprehensive paper outlining co-governance approaches and exploring models between the Crown and Indigenous nations for natural resource management at a regional scale.


For more information, please contact:

Hannah Askew | Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law

Report and related resources:

Between Law and Action: Assessing the State of Knowledge on Indigenous Law, UNDRIP and Free, Prior and Informed Consent with Reference to Fresh Water Resources - September 2017

Paddling Together: Co-Governance Models for Regional Cumulative Effects Management - June 2017