Indigenous communities are increasingly taking the lead in river restoration, using the process as an opportunity to re-engage deeply with their rivers, while revealing socio-cultural and political dimensions of restoration underreported in ecological and social science literatures. We engaged in collaborative research with representatives from three Indigenous nations in the United States, New Zealand, and Canada to explore the relationship between Indigenous ways of knowing and being (i.e., “Indigenous knowledges”) and their restoration efforts. Our research project asks the following: how are Indigenous knowledges enacted through river restoration and how do they affect outcomes? How do the experiences of these Indigenous communities broaden our understanding of the social dimensions of river restoration? Our research reveals how socio-cultural protocols and spiritual practices are intertwined with restoration methodologies, showing why cultural approaches to restoration matter. We found that in many cases, a changing political or legal context helps create space for assertion of Indigenous spiritual and cultural values, while the restoration efforts themselves have the potential to both repair community relationships with water and empower communities vis-à-vis the wider society. We show that restoration has the potential to not only restore ecosystem processes and services, but to repair and transform human relationships with rivers and create space politically for decolonizing river governance.
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We would like to thank the Ottaway, St. Claire and Waikato rivers for all that they have taught us before and during our knowledge exchange. We would also like to thank all the community members who welcomed us into their territories and participated in our exchange, including those named and unnamed in this manuscript. Thank you to the Porter Family Foundation for generously funding our research. We thank JoRee LaFrance for her participation and assistance throughout the research process and Jonathan Chipman for helping us create our map figures. Finally, we thank our editors and anonymous reviewers for helping to drastically improve this paper.
Handled by Kyle Whyte, Michigan State University, USA.
Coleen Fox and Nicholas Reo served as co-first authors on this manuscript, co-leading the research and writing processes.
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Fox, C.A., Reo, N.J., Turner, D.A. et al. “The river is us; the river is in our veins”: re-defining river restoration in three Indigenous communities. Sustain Sci 12, 521–533 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0421-1
- River restoration
- Indigenous knowledge