New report assesses implications of UNDRIP on water governance in Canada

Vancouver – 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, examines existing knowledge from leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinkers, and concludes that meeting the requirements of 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 report’s lead author. “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.”

One of the key elements of UNDRIP, and perhaps the most controversial, is the requirement to achieve free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples affected by proposed development in their territories.

While the controversy typically stems from the question of whether it constitutes a “veto,” the report finds that this only becomes an issue if consent is sought after a project has already progressed. Such issues are not as likely, the report says, if Indigenous peoples are involved at the very beginning of a project, 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.

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