Access to drinkable water is essential to human life. The consequence of unsafe drinking water can be damaging to communities and catastrophic to human health. Today, one in five First Nation communities in Canada is on a boil water advisory, with some advisories lasting over 10 years. Factors contributing to this problem stretch back to colonial structures and institutional arrangement that reproduce woefully inadequate community drinking water systems. Notwithstanding these challenges, First Nation communities remain diligent, adaptive, and innovative in their efforts to provide drinkable water to their community members. One example is through the practice of source water protection planning. Source water is untreated water from groundwater or surface water that supplies drinking water for human consumption. Source water protection is operationalized through land and water planning activities aimed at reducing the risk of contamination from entering a public drinking water supply. Here, we introduce a source water protection planning process at Muskowekwan First Nation, Treaty 4, Saskatchewan. The planning process followed a community-based participatory approach guided by trust, respect, and reciprocity between community members and university researchers. Community members identified threats to the drinking water source followed by restorative land management actions to reduce those threats. The result of this process produced much more than a planning document but engaged multiple community members in a process of empowerment and self-determination. The process of plan-making produced many unintended results including human–land connectivity, reconnection with the water spirit, as well as the reclaiming of indigenous planning. Source water protection planning may not correct all the current water system inadequacies that exist on many First Nations, but it will empower communities to take action to protect their drinking water sources for future generations as a pathway to local water security.
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