Spring 2017 E-News
Centre for Global Studies' POLIS Water Sustainability Project
University of Victoria
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Celebrating World Water Day

A month of activities at the WSP 

In 1993, the United Nations designated March 22nd as World Water Day. People gather to highlight the pivotal role water plays in our everyday lives and reflect on how to best manage this critical resource. In Canada, it has become custom to gather throughout that whole week (Canada Water Week), with events planned in watersheds across the country. Here at the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, we were buzzing with activity throughout the whole month, as we hosted a number of events to facilitate discussion and urge action on priority water issues.
March 15th
The Paris Agreement and Global Response to Climate Change

Photo: Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May gives Global Talk.

As part of the Centre for Global Studies’ Global Talks series, we were privileged to host Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May for an intimate discussion about the Paris Agreement and the global response to the threat of climate change. Her insights and expertise around the international policy and governance aspects of climate change were on full display. She shined light on the evolution of international climate change agreements and Canada’s role in the negotiations. May suggested that recent governments had dealt a blow to Canada’s role as a climate leader, undermining previously agreed-upon baselines for carbon emission and inhibiting meaningful collaboration.
With the connection between climate and water becoming increasingly obvious, May suggested that although the Paris Agreement commitment to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is an important step forward, greater action is needed from citizens and environmental groups alike. “Ultimately, the 2016 COP Paris Agreement was a success, but it won’t be enough to meaningfully combat climate change,” May stressed to the audience—a group of young researchers and established fellows and affiliates at the Centre for Global Studies, many of whom have had long careers in environmental, water, or international policy- and law-making. Several exciting opportunities and initiatives do exist, however, and May remains hopeful that with good leadership, and strong relationships among nations, real climate action can be achieved.
March 23rd
Exploring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Photo: Attendees at Centre for Global Studies' Global Talk 

March 23rd proved to be a very busy day at POLIS headquarters. To kick things off, Aboriginal law expert Merrell-Anne Phare and former Government of the Northwest Territories MLA and Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Michael Miltenberger, gave a thought-provoking talk at the Centre for Global Studies. Merrell-Ann and Michael spoke about the historic context through which the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) was created, and Canada’s approach to (and challenges in) implementing it. Drawing on their experiences negotiating transboundary water agreements in the Mackenzie River Basin, they presented a new model for meaningful partnership with Indigenous nations: collaborative consent. Collaborative consent is a process where Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments work together from the outset on a given issue to continually achieve each other’s consent through collaborative approaches. “It is an iterative, long-term process that can, over time, help actualize co-governance,” Merrell-Ann emphasized. In the discussion that followed, a key point that emerged is that collaborative consent places a “dual onus” on both Canadian and Indigenous governments to adapt and develop new institutions to work together in respectful partnerships.

March 23rd 
"Belo Monte: After the Flood" Film Screening and Community Q&A

Photo: Dr. Michele-Lee Moore, the Honourable Michael Miltenberger, and the WSP’s Dana Holtby.

The evening of March 23rd, Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger continued the conversation from their morning session, this time joined by UVic Geography Associate Professor Michele-Lee Moore at an event co-hosted by the WSP and the Water, Innovation, and Global Governance Lab. With an audience of close to 50 community members, the evening started with Victoria’s first screening of Belo Monte: After the Flood, the latest film from award-winning documentary filmmaker Todd Southgate. The film showcases the stories of Indigenous community members along the Xingu River in Brazil and their decades-long fight against the multi-billion-dollar Belo Monte hydroelectric project.
Following the sobering film, the discussion was brought closer to home. The three panellists discussed ecological governance issues occurring in Brazil and highlighted the importance of UNDRIP in similar issues in Canada—including the obvious parallels to the controversies surrounding the Site C dam, which falls within the Mackenzie Basin in Northeast British Columbia. The discussion highlighted the concerning aspects of large dam projects and poor governance leading to tragic social, economic, and environmental outcomes. However, it also highlighted areas where real collaboration has occurred with Indigenous nations on resource governance. Audience members pushed the conversation further by asking what we as individuals can do to move towards more collaborative and just partnerships with Indigenous nations. The panel’s response? Get informed, get out there, and vote. Commit yourself to decolonization no matter what your profession, and be open to innovations that create new realms of possibility.
March 28th
Indigenous Water Initiatives: Achievements and Capacity Gaps


Photo: Seyem’ Qwantlen Annual Summer Walking Tours
from Ashley Doyle’s presentation on Kwantlen First Nation freshwater planning.
To cap off our series of World Water Day events, the WSP, the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, and the First Nations Fisheries Council co-hosted the webinar Indigenous Water Initiatives: Achievements and Capacity Gaps. This webinar painted a clear picture of the exciting momentum around Indigenous-led water governance, and emphasized the ongoing work that will be needed to drive change.

Drawing on a 2016 systematic research review of Indigenous-led freshwater planning initiatives and co-governance arrangements in B.C., Kate Cave (Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources) and Genevieve Layton-Cartier (First Nations Fisheries Council) kicked off the session by discussing provincewide trends and opportunities. Shannon Squire (P'egp'ig'lha Council/T'it'q'et First Nation) and Ashley Doyle (Kwantlen First Nation) then shared their journeys to implement or develop water initiatives in their respective nations, providing vivid and tangible examples of the daily realities involved in organizing a First Nations-led water initiative.
Shannon and Ashley's on-the-ground illustrations gave context to the opening presentation provided by Kate and Genevieve. Results of the 2016 systematic research review show that many First Nations are developing and articulating their communities’ water values and priorities, or leading other community-based or Nation-level water initiatives, despite capacity gaps and other challenges. Kate and Genevieve talked about some of the opportunities they see for supporting Indigenous-led water initiatives, including addressing funding shortages; a possible solution is to establish government funds and/or delivery mechanisms to specifically support freshwater planning/management/collaborative initiatives for First Nations. Genevieve also pointed to a number of non-government organizations who are focusing their efforts on supporting Indigenous-led water projects. 

Research Help

Seeking Options and Leads for River Basin Management Solutions in Vietnam

Photo: Old flood control and diversion structure in Vu Gia, Thu Bon floodplain. Credit: ISET.

POLIS Research Associate and long-time partner Stephen Tyler is seeking advice regarding watershed management trade-offs. He is currently working as part of a team engaged in a project in Vietnam. The project will establish and monitor the effectiveness of a collaborative river basin management platform that links upstream and downstream governments and key private sector actors at multiple levels. These results will inform emerging national policy in Vietnam that proposes new river basin management organizations to address flooding and drought concerns in the context of climate change and rapid urbanization.

The main problem, Stephen explained, is that these new institutions have limited political authority and rely on the commitment of much stronger political and private sector participants—mainly provincial governments and large industrial enterprises including hydro reservoir operators. With a weak regulatory regime, trade-offs between upstream and downstream interests over issues like reservoir management, flood early warning systems and control structures, watershed protection, pollution, and minimum flow requirements become transactional in nature and are structured as win-lose negotiations, limiting the potential for consensus solutions. To some extent, of course, this is inevitable given the difference of interests. Short of designing complex payment-for-environmental-services schemes, it would be helpful to find good examples or models of how these challenges have been overcome elsewhere. If you know of well-documented examples or references, Stephen invites you to contact him at The project will run until the end of 2018, but Stephen is seeking input over the next month prior to his field visit and a workshop in May.

In This Issue

Upcoming Events

On April 28th and 29th, WSP Advisor Jon O’Riordan will participate at the workshop Columbia River Treaty: Identifying Scientific Issues at the University of California, Berkeley. It will convene leading scholars and practitioners in river science and governance to identify unresolved scientific issues associated with the Columbia River Treaty. Scientists representing the interests of First Nations on both sides of the border will be represented.
From May 6th to 8th, the WSP's Rosie Simms will participate in a gathering in Clayoquot Sound as part of the project Indigenous Conservation Areas in CanadaThe project is a collaboration between the POLIS Project and The Polis Foundation, headed by Eli Enns.
The WSP's Rosie Simms will be giving a presentation on the B.C. Water Sustainability Act for the British Columbia Canadian Water Resources Association on May 11th in Vancouver.
In June, the WSP's Rosie Simms will be giving a presentation on "Thinking Like a Watershed: The Future of Water Law and Policy in B.C." at a luncheon at First Metropolitan United Church of Canada in Victoria, B.C.

Recent Events

In mid-March, T’Sou’ke First Nation hosted the inaugural project meeting the five-year research project “A SHARED Future: Achieving Strength, Health, and Autonomy through Renewable Developments for the Future.” The project is led by Dr. Heather Castleden (Queens University) and POLIS/Centre for Global Studies researchers Kelly Bannister, Oliver M. Brandes, and Michele-Lee Moore are involved as partners.

On April 5th, Hanna Daltrop gave a presentation on her Social Justice Studies Program practicum placement with the POLIS Project. Hanna contributed to a bibliography on water ethics and cross-cultural values with a specific focus on water declarations and statements created by Indigenous communities in B.C.
On April 6th, the WSP and the First Nations Fisheries Council co-hosted the by-invite webinar "Mapping Archaeological, Cultural, Ecological Values for Decision-making." Speakers told the story of how First Nations, local, and provincial government partners collaborated through the Kootenay Lake Partnership.

WSP in the News

Wayfinding (Water Canada, March/April 2017)
The POLIS Water Sustainability Project gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and PolicyGordon and Betty Moore FoundationReal Estate Foundation of British Columbia, Sitka Foundation, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The WSP also extends a special thank you to the University of Victoria and Centre for Global Studies. All WSP publications are available for download at For more information please contact Laura Brandes at

Copyright © 2017 POLIS Water Sustainability Project, All rights reserved.

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