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Water and Indigenous rights: Mechanisms and pathways of recognition, representation, and redistribution

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Indigenous water rights contests take many forms, manifesting in conflict over water resource development, exclusion from decision‐making, marginalization in regional political economies and opposition to environmental degradation. A growing number of institutional options are available to recognize Indigenous water rights and a diversity of approaches is being taken by governments, courts of law, Indigenous peoples and others in response to historical and contemporary inequities and discrimination in patterns of distribution and participation in the institutions of water governance. Although not the only arena, political action directed towards change in state‐based institutions is a principal focus for Indigenous peoples engaged in water struggles. This article reviews the literature on Indigenous water rights in national frameworks of water governance from a range of disciplines. It describes the leading approaches to recognition, representation, and redistribution that exist under the domestic arrangements of nation‐states to recognize localized norms and rules of water use and custodianship, as well as Indigenous forms of political organization. These include statutory mechanisms to increase water access, treaties and settlements, constitutional protections for collective rights, self‐organized or internal governance models, market‐based approaches and moves in law to recognize reciprocal relationships to water and legitimize custodianship of rivers. Rather than take recognition for granted as an essential condition of or ideal end‐point to Indigenous water rights struggles, the paper critically reflects on the multi‐faceted dimensions of this ambivalent concept, revealing the opportunities as well as tensions and dilemmas in the leading approaches to addressing Indigenous water rights claims.

This article is categorized under:

  • Human Water > Rights to Water
  • Human Water > Water Governance

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Human Water > Rights to Water
Human Water > Water Governance

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