UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“More precious than gold” : Indigenous water governance in the context of Modern land claims in Yukon Wilson, Nicole J.


Water governance is a priority for Indigenous peoples, whose complex relationships to water are essential to material and cultural well-being. Indigenous water governance refers to Indigenous modes of interacting with and decision-making processes about water including ontologies, epistemologies, and forms of governance distinct to a given people and adapted over time. Indigenous peoples around the world are presently struggling to protect the waters within their territories against unprecedented changes occurring as a consequence of global environmental change and unsustainable resource development. This dissertation empirically investigates how Indigenous water governance is shaped by the Modern land claims in Yukon, Canada focusing on four of fourteen Yukon First Nations (Carcross/Tagish, Kluane, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and White River); the challenges of navigating complex water governance landscapes where historical and ongoing colonialism shape Indigenous water rights and access; Indigenous approaches to water governance as they are informed by specific water ontologies and forms of governance; and the novel approaches to water governance Indigenous peoples are engaging as informed by their relationships to water and strategic engagement with colonial water frameworks. Chapter 2 engages with the ontological politics of water and water governance. It examines how ontological politics inform water conflict between Indigenous and settler governments and the ways Indigenous views of water as a living entity might come to inform more just and sustainable alternatives. Chapter 3 contributes theory and empirics to the study of Indigenous-state water co-governance in Yukon through an examination of the benefits, challenges and future opportunities with the water governance system, shaped by Modern land claims. Chapter 4 engages with the unique opportunity for Yukon First Nations to develop water legislation and explores the implications of engaging “state-like” forms of governance for Indigenous water governance. Chapter 5 seeks to expand understandings of Indigenous peoples’ roles in Community-Based Monitoring from one of ‘knowledge input’ to an emergent water governance strategy engaged to protect the waters within their traditional territories.

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