Project co-leader Gary Carriere (boat driver) of the Cumberland House Fishermen’s Co-operative and USask assistant professor Lori Bradford (passenger) examining sediment and water levels on the Cumberland House Delta in northern Saskatchewan. (Photo: Graham Strickert)

USask-led Global Water Futures launches six projects co-led with Indigenous partners

In a unique approach to improving water security through western science and Indigenous knowledge, the University of Saskatchewan-led Global Water Futures (GWF)—the world’s largest university-led freshwater research program—has launched six new co-led projects across Canada to address urgent and growing water quality issues for Indigenous communities.

“We are seeing profound changes to our river basins that affect us all, but no one in Canada is more affected by these changes than those in Indigenous communities,” said Dr. John Pomeroy (PhD), Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change and Director of GWF, a Canada First Research Excellence Fund program.

“Through these co-created and co-led projects, we are working with our Indigenous partners in an unprecedented way to work together to co-develop solutions for critical community water security challenges, while trying to decolonialize water science,” he said. 

According to a recent report by Indigenous Services Canada, there are 64 long-term water advisories on First Nations communities in Canada. But drinking water quality is just one of many community water security challenges arising from resource development and climate change.

The projects will build on the strengths of Indigenous communities to address water quality issues including land reclamation in mining and gas industries, health and quality of freshwater fish, encouraging young peoples’ engagement as stewards of the land and water, and affecting policies and governance that will support sustainable water quality.

“Our shared goal is to create an ongoing dialogue and framework that will use both western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge to solve these water issues,” Pomeroy said, noting that the research projects were jointly identified at a meeting between Indigenous community representatives and GWF scientists at Wanuskewin Heritage Park earlier this year.   

Each project is led by both university researchers and leaders from Indigenous communities and organizations. The projects involve USask and its GWF partners University of Waterloo, McMaster University, and Wilfrid Laurier University, working alongside a wide range of Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous communities are often the most affected by water quality issues,” said Dr. Deborah McGregor, member of the GWF Indigenous Advisory Panel, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice, and associate professor at York University. “Through these co-led and co-created projects across Canada, Global Water Futures and our friends and partners in Indigenous communities are making a tremendous step towards solving challenges that affect all of us.”  

Among the projects selected for funding: 

  • Is our water good to drink? Diane Giroux, community coordinator with the Akaitcho Territory Government which represents five Dene communities in the Northwest Territories, will co-lead research with Corinne Schuster-Wallace, USask associate professor of geography and planning, and Lalita Bharadwaj, professor in the USask School of Public Health.

“While many Indigenous communities recognize western science standards for drinking water quality, this is not enough to address the Indigenous concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in relation to water,” says Schuster-Wallace.  “We need to explore the similarities and differences between what is considered ‘safe to drink’ by western science, and what is actually ‘good to drink’ by Indigenous communities,” she said.  

Giroux said that through this process and its outcomes, communities will be able to better understand and assess water-related health in Indigenous communities. “We need to be able to share this knowledge with government agencies responsible for water management, remediation, and quality monitoring,” she said.

  • We need more than just water: This project will assess sediment in the Saskatchewan River Delta at Cumberland House, SK to determine whether it is feasible to restore sediment downstream of a dam and thereby rejuvenate the freshwater delta ecosystem.

The project is co-led by Tim Jardine, USask associate professor of aquatic toxicology, and Gary Carriere, president of the Cumberland House Fishermen’s Co-operative.  Communities involved include the Cumberland House Cree Nation, Northern Village of Cumberland House, and Métis Local 42.

“Within the community, a sense of empowerment around planning will be built, allowing community leaders to guide the process from start to finish,” said Jardine and Carriere in their research proposal. 

The six new three-year projects—a $1.63-million investment—are in addition to 33 GWF projects already underway. Those involve a total of 15 universities and 172 partners, and include a $6.9-million investment on projects addressing Indigenous community water issues.

The overall goal of the GWF research program is to better prepare for and predict climate change threats and sustainably manage freshwater resources in Canada and cold regions worldwide.  

For a complete list of the GWF Indigenous co-creation projects and descriptions, please visit:  http://gwftest.usask.ca/science/indigenous-projects.php

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