Sarah Baines

Sarah Baines

Sarah Baines, Canada

Sarah Baines is a Master’s candidate in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. With a background in physical geography, Sarah spent over ten years working with co-management boards, Indigenous governments, and the mining industry on the assessment and regulation of natural resource development projects in Canada’s north. This experience, which included living in a remote Indigenous community for a year, revealed the importance of using diverse knowledges in meaningful ways in environmental management decision processes. While this idea is easy to write on paper, it can be very hard to do in practice, and so Sarah returned to school to explore this idea in greater depth. Combining a natural science background, practical experience and developing social science skills, she is enjoying being embedded within a transdisciplinary research program.

Presentation Title: Indigenous Flows in the Lower Athabasca River, Canada:  A bridging dialogue to meaningfully impact water policy innovation

As scientific management of water resources is replaced by more democratic governance processes, water managers and Indigenous peoples increasingly engage each other to negotiate water policy solutions that mutually satisfy their needs.  To satisfy Indigenous values and interests, water managers sometimes seek ways to quantitatively express Indigenous water flow needs, but few examples of quantified Indigenous flows are documented in the literature.  Even less understood are the factors influencing water managers’ decisions about these quantified Indigenous flows.  This presentation explores the openings and barriers to the adoption of a quantified Indigenous flow in water policy using a case study from the lower Athabasca River region of Alberta, Canada.  The lower Athabasca River region is within the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations who combined western science with traditional knowledge to quantify the river flow necessary to support navigation of the river in exercise of their treaty rights.  This quantified flow was proposed by the First Nations as a water withdrawal limit for oil sands mining, but instead was used by water managers to develop an alternative policy solution to protect navigation.  Combining the Indigenous concept of ethical space with policy innovation implementation theory, the factors that influenced this decision are described.  The factors that emerged include different conceptualizations of the meaning of zero, the role of health and multi-generational thinking in water quantity management, water rights paradigms, and questions of procedural fairness in a collaborative governance setting.  By specifying influential factors in decision-making, practical insights that can be discussed at an operational level are offered to help meaningfully advance Indigenous interests in water flow policy.

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