Water governance has emerged as a priority area of concern to Indigenous communities across the world. Development processes that threaten to transform the waterways of Indigenous territories and an unprecedented rate of water sector reform are two important factors behind the growing interest in this issue. Indigenous peoples aspire to defend water access rights, define water control rights, and legitimize local authority and, consistent with other Indigenous political claims, seek recognition of the collective nature of Indigenous rights. Few countries however recognize the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples in their domestic water laws, or the legitimacy of Indigenous water governance systems.
A recent review in WIREs Water synthesizes the literature on Indigenous water rights, examining the ways in which Indigenous people are framing their claims for water and how they are being addressed in national frameworks of water governance. It describes the leading approaches to recognize localized norms and rules of water use and custodianship, to redistribute water access rights and support Indigenous forms of political organization.
It identifies key types of mechanism and pathways: treaties and settlements, constitutional protections for collective rights, self-organized or internal Indigenous governance models, market-based approaches, and moves to recognize reciprocal relationships to water and legitimize custodianship of rivers. The categories, which are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, highlight the diversity of current approaches and in combination reveal the opportunities as well as dilemmas and tensions inherent in seeking recognition, representation and redistribution from and within state systems of water governance.
The review argues for taking seriously the legacies of colonial water governance arrangements which continue to cast a long shadow over water rights distributions, norms of water use and claims to legitimacy in the governance of water in liberal states.
Kindly contributed by Sue Jackson.