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  • Ayo Shanti

Integrating Indigenous Perspectives for Sustainable Water Management & Environmental Justice

The International Water Association (IWA) held a webinar titled “Embracing Indigenous perspectives to achieve Sustainable Development Goals" with the aim to emphasize the integral role of indigenous knowledge in achieving international sustainable development goals (SDGs). This event, coinciding with the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples established in 1982 by the United Nations, works to shed light on the pressing issues faced by indigenous communities. 

International Water Association Flags in Copenhagen, 2022. Credits: ©

Indigenous Peoples, numbering around 476 million globally, have historically been marginalized, their rights overlooked and violated. This has positioned these communities among the world’s most disadvantaged groups. The webinar underscores how these communities are uniquely impacted by environmental degradation, including water pollution, and the lack of recognition for their human rights and political representation. 

The focal point of the webinar is the critical need to incorporate indigenous perspectives and knowledge in water management. Indigenous practices, deeply rooted in tradition, have demonstrated remarkable success in managing water resources, especially relevant in the current climate context. Despite this, their long-standing values and practices have been largely ignored by the mainstream water sector. 

Associate Professor Moggridge from the University of Canberra, a Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation, passionately advocates for the inclusion of indigenous voices in storytelling and decision-making processes. He emphasizes the vital need for the academic sector to acknowledge and integrate traditional water knowledge into their research and practices. Furthermore, Moggridge highlights the challenges faced by indigenous communities, such as unsafe drinking water due to inadequate testing and infrastructure. 

Issac Pikayo, an indigenous leader from the Ashaninka Ethnicity in Brazil, echoes these sentiments. He described the struggle of indigenous people in preserving their traditional ways of life amidst industrial encroachments and ineffective public policies. Pikayo points out the bureaucratic hurdles in advancing projects that support indigenous communities and the environmental hazards posed by industries situated along rivers. 

This webinar also broaches the subject of the Great Lakes’ pollution and the critique of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as being overly western-centric and compartmentalized. This critique highlights a significant gap in how Western customs may not always align with or support indigenous practices and knowledge systems. 

The webinar also highlights innovative approaches to integrating indigenous knowledge into mainstream practices. For instance, Troels Kaergaard Bjerre, a Danish water utility company was present and discussed how they implemented an SDG assessment tool to enhance decision-making transparency and inclusivity. This approach aligns corporate goals with broader necessities rather than mere convenience. 

This webinar and its associated initiatives is a commendable project by the International Water Association, highlighting the imperative of integrating indigenous knowledge in environmental and water management. However, it is crucial that the insights and discussions from this webinar translate into tangible actions. Ensuring the active participation of indigenous communities in decision-making processes and the implementation of their traditional practices is not just a matter of respect and rights, but also a critical step towards achieving sustainable and equitable environmental stewardship globally.


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