Decolonizing Water Governance: Addressing the Water Crisis in Ontario Through Recognition of First Nations Jurisdiction



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Decolonizing the water governance apparatus that continues to fail Ontario First Nations is long overdue. Indeed, with significant advancements in the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canada, a clear window of opportunity exists that must be actioned upon. No longer can First Nations tolerate the status quo that, under Canada’s watch, perpetuates oppression and denies fundamental Indigenous and human rights. The following position paper details the approach the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) recommends to usher in meaningful reforms in water governance and to address the ongoing water crisis on reserve in Ontario. Indigenous people must determine their own governance structures without outside interference, but with the support of colonial governments per their obligations under UNDRIP. Reforming the current approach to water management and water governance must register as a key priority for First Nations given the compounding challenges currently faced, and the threat posed by climate change.

This paper proposes an approach to decolonizing water governance in Ontario along two pathways:

  • Pathway One (short to medium term) concern reforms that must be taken to address the water crisis from within the colonial system; and,
  • Pathway Two (medium to long term) concerns the process and formalization of restored jurisdiction to First Nations regarding water governance that aligns with Indigenous knowledge, customs, and traditions and self-determination.

It is important to acknowledge that the OFNTSC is not a rights holder and has no mandate to speak on behalf of the Ontario First Nations. Rather, the intention of this paper is to inform and present options to rights-holding First Nations to consider regarding the restoration of their rightful jurisdiction in water governance. OFNTSC was founded upon the devolution of colonial responsibilities and is funded by and answers to Indigenous Services Canada; however, to provide the best level of quality technical services to Ontario First Nations, the OFNTSC is compelled to advocate for a new model and a new way forward based on self-determination. This position paper articulates this aspiration and is intended as a catalyst to advance these important discussions.

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