Indigenous co-principal investigator:

  • Ms. Sarah Cockerton, Manager of Environmental Programs, Matawa First Nations Management | | (807) 285-9400

Academic co-principal investigators:

  • Professor Terry Mitchell, School of International Policy and Governance, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. | Phone: (519) 576-0003

Project overview

The problem:

MFN’s Homelands & Traditional Territories encompass over 180,000 km2 in northern Ontario, serving as the basis for their livelihoods since time immemorial. Within this region, which is part of a larger 380,000 km2 of related watersheds, there are no conservation authorities or other water governance frameworks. Matawa Water Futures (MWF) brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous forms of knowledge to promote the development of an Indigenous-informed water monitoring framework that will help Matawa member First Nations (MFN) prepare for climate change and future industrial development.

The plan:

Water is at the heart of Indigenous land use and stewardship efforts, and the proposed research promises innovations in water science consistent with a “Two Row Wampum” methodology based on the historical peace and friendship treaty which depicts Indigenous peoples travelling in a canoe and settlers in a ship on common waters, respecting one another and travelling the river of life together with non-interference. The Two Row Wampum methodology builds the basis for new relationships between Western science and Indigenous knowledge. This means beginning from Indigenous worldviews, values, context and epistemologies, but also building capacity for Indigenous leaders and community members to understand, engage with, collect, and analyze Western scientific data to compare against thresholds that are of significance to them. In the past, the tendency to simply insert Indigenous knowledge within environmental management processes driven by Western science has been ineffective. Instead, communities need to be equal players in braiding knowledge systems to monitor, predict, and manage changes to their watershed.

The outcome:

The overarching goal of the MWF project is to advance Indigenous-informed water science to address the need for a more robust and effective water monitoring and governance system that will support Indigenous decision making and water stewardship in MFN Homelands & Traditional Territories, while also contributing to the broader body of knowledge on this topic both within and beyond the scholarly and policy communities. This vision breaks down into a series of six key objectives, as follows:

1. Build on existing relationships between MFN ITK holders and academic researchers to provide the basis for a respectful exchange and braiding of knowledge systems around water stewardship practice;

2. Enhance capacity for MFNM employees, MFN leadership and communities to effectively bring forward and mobilize Indigenous values and knowledge in water management and governance, alongside Western science practices of data collection and modeling;

3. Establish the basis for an Indigenous-informed water monitoring framework in MFN’s Homelands and Traditional Territories, including both ITK and science criteria for setting baselines, monitoring locations, acceptable-change thresholds and management triggers;

4. Set parameters for water monitoring by Indigenous Guardians in three of the nine MFN, including priority locations for monitoring, key ITK observations and water science parameters to measure, and community-defined thresholds/triggers;

5. Integrate tools for modeling and prediction drawing on the Indigenous-informed monitoring parameters; and

6. Develop opportunities for Indigenous-to-Indigenous knowledge exchange about water stewardship and Indigenous Guardians programming.