UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“All of the water that is in our reserves and that is in our territory is ours” : colonial and Indigenous water governance in unceded Indigenous territories in British Columbia Simms, Beatrice Rose


With increasing legal recognition of Aboriginal rights and title, growing calls for collaborative water governance arrangements with First Nations, and approval of British Columbia’s new Water Sustainability Act (2014), shifts are unfolding in water governance in BC which have some significant implications for First Nations. First Nations across British Columbia have also clearly articulated that water and water governance are priority areas of concern. Within this context, this thesis examines the historic and present roles and experiences of First Nations in colonial water governance in British Columbia, based primarily on a case study conducted with the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. In Chapter 2, I examine the historical formation of reserves and the colonial water allocation system, exploring how the demarcation of reserve boundaries and water licenses established some fundamental barriers for First Nations in water access and governance that persist today. Chapter 3 provides an overview of concerns about colonial water governance that were identified by Lower Similkameen Indian Band interviewees and others, followed by a critical discussion of how a collaborative watershed planning model could address, or further entrench, existing governance challenges. This thesis provides a timely and relevant commentary on the contested realities of First Nations’ engagement in colonial water governance in the province. Insights suggest that while there is growing recognition that First Nations have a legitimate place at the center of water governance in British Columbia, the collaborative watershed planning approach adopted in the Water Sustainability Act falls well short of adopting the necessary steps towards full Indigenous water governance or water co-governance. Existing colonial water governance challenges and failures are not likely to be addressed by a collaborative watershed planning approach. Overall, this thesis suggests that the transition to more effective and just water governance in British Columbia includes observation of Aboriginal rights and title, commitment to relationship and trust building, and capacity development for colonial and First Nations governments.

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