Global Water Futures researchers and Indigenous communities across Canada are working together on research to help address the challenging water issues experienced by Indigenous communities across the country. GWF has recognized the significance of Traditional Knowledge and respecting Indigenous community participation through co-creation and co-development of research projects. Indigenization of water research is an ambitious yet essential goal. Indigenization is a multi-stage process that recognizes Canada's colonial history and its impacts on Indigenous peoples and their lands. Our work includes both community led and community engaged projects that actively support reconciliation.

After extensive consultation, GWF created an Indigenous community water research strategy used as a basis for a request for proposal and, ultimately, the funding of six Indigenous community co-led projects. These projects advance the understanding of traditional and western knowledge in water governance, water and food security, sediment restoration, water security, climate change, and water-related human and ecosystem health in Indigenous communities.

History of GWF's Co-Creation in Water Research

2018 Co-Creation Workshop

Co-Creation Workshop
Introductory welcome message from GWF Director John Pomeroy at the workshop (Photo by Andrew Spring, @andrewjspring)

Co-developing a Strategy for Indigenous Community Water Research

In April 2018, 60 researchers and Indigenous community partners came together at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to build new, and enhance existing, Indigenous community-university partnerships. The interactive workshop included discussions and working sessions focussed on building relationships, co-designing proposal elements and evaluation criteria, and identifying leveraging opportunities with potential funding partners.

The primary outcome of the workshop was co-development of the Request for Proposals within the Community Water Research Funding stream, including elements that are more reflective of Indigenous values and processes, such as: Indigenous co-applicants; appropriate timelines and financial distribution; community engagement; consultation and agreements; data management that is sensitive to cultural use and sharing; integration of both Western and traditional knowledge generation; and direct community research benefits.

The co-creation process also identified and communicated priority themes for the research projects and partnerships such as: citizen science through capacity-building in areas such as monitoring and data acquisition; decision support and visualization, including web of knowledge, data sharing, and computer apps; environmental flows, concerning quantity, quality, habitat, and sediment; the standing of western and Indigenous science, including any overlap or differences; cultural strengthening as an outcome of research; linking environmental and human health and livelihoods through water; GIS and remote sensing tools, particularly permafrost mapping, drones, and autonomous sensors; and governance, legislation, and policy.

GWF’s Strategic Management Committee and an Indigenous Advisory Panel will conduct a joint review of full proposals, based on evaluation criteria co-developed at the workshop. Awarded funding will support Indigenous community involvement, operating expenses, and the hiring of highly qualified personnel. Projects will be awarded funding in the fall of 2018.

Indigenization and GWF Annual Science Meetings

GWF Annual Science Meeting 2018

Summary of the GWF Annual Science Meeting 2018.

Co-Hosted by Six Nations of the Grand River

For the first time in Canada, a science gathering the size of more than 400 people was hosted on, and by, a First Nation. The Inaugural GWF Annual Science Meeting June 3-6, 2018 was an incredible meeting of a transdisciplinary group of water researchers and stakeholders, hosted and co-organized by Six Nations of the Grand River on their own territory.

On June 4, GWF scientists were invited to Six Nations of the Grand River, Ohsweken to listen, learn, and share. Through food, music, cultural history and stories, and land-based knowledge exchange sessions, meaningful relationship-building occurred between researchers and the community. Within these relationships, research can more effectively recognize the importance of research co-creation and Indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge as key to successful research projects and the GWF program.

Current Research

Alongside the six co-developed projects, there are a number of GWF funded projects under both the Pillar 1-2 "Transformative Science, Big Data and Decision Tools" project theme and the Pillar 3 "User Question-led" project theme which are engaging and co-creating research processes and outcomes with Indigenous communities:

Collaborative Modelling Framework for Water Futures and Holistic Human Health

Principal Investigator: Lalita Bharadwaj, University of Saskatchewan

Using diverse data sources, the project is developing a model framework with Agent Based Modelling to assess and investigate complex interactions and feedbacks between human and natural systems, communicate understanding of the comprehensive impacts of flooding, and improve mitigation measures for Indigenous communities by evaluating and supporting health services, emergency planning, and management.


Adaptation Governance and Policy Changes in Relation to a Changing Moisture Regime Across the Boreal Forest

Principal Investigator: Colin Laroque, University of Saskatchewan

The project will provide an improved ground-up framework of vulnerability assessments to improve current provincial and national structures of forest governance and management practices under climate change and future climatic variability. Information and expertise through data and scientific understanding is applied to develop adaptation tools that address priority issues facing industry, government, and Indigenous communities in the southern Boreal Forest. 

Sensors and Sensing Systems for Water Quality Monitoring

Principal Investigator: Ravi Selvaganapathy, McMaster University

Project Managers: Rana Attalla

The project aims to develop low-cost sensing systems and implementation strategies for long-term monitoring of water quality parameters, including developing and integrating capability for the sensing system to detect pathogens, heavy metals, oxidants, and nutrients. This outcome will increase detailed understanding of the effect of human activities on ecosystems and water by monitoring the presence of contaminants and their variation over different time scales. Sensor design, field testing, deployment, maintenance, and data collection will be done in collaboration with interested partners, including the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Lubicon Cree of Little Buffalo, Alberta through the Pillar 3 partner project “Co-Creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools."

Co-Creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools

Principal Investigator: Dawn Martin-Hill, McMaster University

Project Manager: Laura Beaudin

The project works with the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Lubicon Cree Nation of Little Buffalo, Alberta to build community capacity to monitor source waters with environmental sensors, addressing concerns regarding water quality, ecological integrity of source waters, and governance of these waters. Partnering with the “Sensors and Sensing Systems for Water Quality Monitoring” Pillar 1-2 research project creates an opportunity for collaboration between community members and researchers on sensor design, deployment and maintenance for long-term monitoring. Co-creation of an appropriate user interface through translation between English and native languages will facilitate community access to data obtained from the project.

Northern Water Futures

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Baltzer, Wilfrid Laurier University

The project seeks to expand the capacity for research and monitoring in the Northwest Territories and improve the understanding of long-term sustainability in water resources in an area that is facing increasing resource exploitation and production with associated infrastructure construction, while also being one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Co-development of health and risk communication strategies are used to translate results from monitoring, incorporating a risk-benefit approach that promotes the use of country foods in order to improve nutrition and food security while lessening contaminant exposure among First Nations in the Mackenzie Valley.

Prairie Water

Principal Investigators: Chris Spence and Colin Whitfield, University of Saskatchewan

Prairie Water focuses on sustainable water management for civic and provincial policy makers and urban, rural, and Indigenous communities on the Canadian Prairies. Hydrology, groundwater, wetlands and governance project themes work in conjunction to enhance water resilience in Prairie communities under a changing climate.

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