First Nation communities in Canada are disproportionately plagued by undrinkable water and insufficient household sanitation. In addition, water resource management in First Nation communities has long been a technocratic and scientific mission controlled by state-led authorities. There has been limited engagement of First Nations in decision-making around water management and water governance. As such, problems associated with access to drinkable water and household sanitation are commonly positioned as hydrological or environmental problems (flood or drought) to be fixed by technical and engineering solutions. This apolitical reading has been criticized for not addressing the root cause of the First Nation water problem, but instead, of reproducing it. In this paper, an approach using political ecology will tease out key factors contributing to the current water problem in many First Nation communities. Using case study research set in source water protection planning, this paper explains how persistent colonial practices of the state continue to reproduce undrinkable water and insufficient household sanitation. Solutions to this ‘water problem’ require greater attention to First Nations water governance capacity and structures.
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