–The following story was written by Taia Goguen-Garner
Indigenous water rights are something that have and continue to be disputed.
PhD student Shaun Stevenson, who has just successfully defended his dissertation, has been looking into Indigenous land and water rights issues throughout his graduate studies.
His interest in Indigenous rights was first piqued when he was growing up in Caledonia, Ontario, after witnessing the 2006 Haudenosaunee land reclamation, as well as the Federal Government’s response to this complex dispute.
For his PhD thesis, Stevenson explored how the meaning of Indigenous water rights has been interpreted and almost ignored by dominant rights discourse around water. He also researched how Indigenous legal orders might come to bear on rights’ disputes over shared waters.
His dissertation focused on multiple water systems including the Trent-Severn Watershed, the James Bay Region, the English-Wabigoon rivers system in northwestern Ontario, and the Grand River in Southern Ontario.
Says Stevenson: “Water rights issues would be better approached through an understanding that Indigenous peoples have their own laws and legal orders around water that give meaning and depth to Indigenous water rights. Indigenous water rights must then flow from these longstanding engagements and stewardship over Indigenous waters.”
He goes on to say that, since Indigenous laws and legal orders were there first, the settler state must reconcile its own interpretations of water rights with those laws and orders.
Stevenson used both critical discourse analysis and Indigenous methodologies to conduct his research. He found that, in most cases, Western rights discourse around water do not support Indigenous water rights, nor represent the shared and relational nature of water.
He also found that adequate Indigenous water rights could ultimately lead to sustainable engagements with water for everyone.
Stevenson has been co-supervised throughout his PhD by Dr. Eva Mackey, a professor in Indigenous and Canadian Studies, and Dr. Jennifer Henderson, who is cross-appointed with the department of English Language and Literature and the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies.
Stevenson says that his two supervisors helped him shape his research in profound ways. “They pushed my thinking in directions I hadn’t thought possible, and brought an interdisciplinary perspective that made for an ambitious dissertation.”
Stevenson is the recipient of the Joseph-Armond Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC), as well as a recipient of Carleton’s Graduate Research and Innovative Thinking Award. He is currently working in the School for the Study of Canada at Trent University. He will be graduating from Carleton with his PhD in English next February.
For more information about the PhD in English, click here.
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