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Media Release

Oaxaca, site of two international forums on managing freshwater resources in the face of the environmental challenges of climate change

Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico, 5 December 2023 — On 27–29 November 2023, in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) held a trinational Indigenous forum and a public forum of its Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), around Indigenous approaches to freshwater management and conservation of resources in North American communities.

During both events, the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Expert Group and JPAC members, invited all interested groups and persons to participate in discussions on the environmental challenges we face today in water resources, as a result of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution.

These factors impact the whole of society, but Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as marginalized and vulnerable populations, are experiencing these impacts much more deeply.

“In North America, the protection of freshwater resources represents a matter of common interest for communities, governments and industry. Today, more than ever, it is crucial to foster conservation activities guided by Indigenous Peoples and local communities to manage the land and rivers sustainably, and to achieve results that benefit nature,” stated Jorge Daniel Taillant, CEC Executive Director.

Trinational Indigenous Forum on Indigenous Approaches to Freshwater Management in North America

The purpose of this event was to explore TEK’s vital role, Indigenous stewardship practices and the intersection of these communities’ rights in freshwater management in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Key issues addressed in the meeting included the growing North American consensus that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Indigenous Knowledge systems are passed down from generation to generation, and express knowledge values and skills that have been relied upon by Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial. TEK is necessarily bound to Indigenous rights, cultures, languages and cosmo visions arising from the innovations that are required to maintain long-standing relationships with traditional territories and to live in harmony with nature. All life is sacred: past, present, and future.

The ongoing and enhanced inclusion of TEK in current freshwater management regimes will contribute to the well-being of future generations for all humanity, ensuring timely identification of key areas of concern in modern times and to vulnerable environs requiring immediate attention. The successful integration of TEK in freshwater management requires the full and active consent and partnership of Indigenous Peoples. Working with TEK inherently requires the involvement of both knowledge holders and the youth from their communities. TEK provides that any approach to freshwater management must be framed in a caring and loving context to ensure that future generations inherit a healthy environment that contributes to the well-being of all humanity.

This forum was the first CEC trinational forum led by Indigenous Peoples and communities of Canada, Mexico and the United States.

JPAC Public Forum on Community-based Conservation of Freshwater Resources : “Forging Community-based Alliances for Water Stewardship”

This event brought community leaders, nongovernmental organizations and other key actors together to discuss water management strategies and highlight community-based initiatives to respond to the multiple issues associated with freshwater conservation and its sustainable use, paying special attention to the establishment of partnerships and alliances. Key points from the meeting include how each of the three countries have a very different system and approach to managing water and to their engagement with Indigenous community/nation water tenure or water rights, as well as their approach to assuring that communities have access to clean, safe, and affordable water. While there is progress being made in each country, Canada appears to be ahead of the other countries with respect to making progress in acknowledging, respecting and working with Indigenous Peoples to manage their lands and waters, but all have a long way to go. There are success stories in each country, however, and we should use them to inspire each other to do better.

The presentation of successful cases allowed the identification of diverse paths or keys to consider in the responsible management of watersheds. Highlights:

  • The recognition of Indigenous communities in national legislation;
  • The dissemination of successful experiences among the three countries, in collaboration with universities and other educational institutions;
  • The dissemination of techniques of sustainable management of watersheds, forests, agroforestry systems, etc., among a multitude of actors and civil society groups, including children and youth.

Particular emphasis was placed on the necessity for a holistic approach, integrated and systematic, that takes into account the relation between water, soil, biodiversity, air, people and communities, and that drives a vision of the watershed in the formulation and implementation of programs, projects, and actions.

Community-driven initiatives are key to advancing sustainable water management practices, and contributing to the restoration of biodiversity and the environment. A way to maximize the impacts of these types of initiatives is to involve governments, the private sector, industry and academia. Governments can support community-driven initiatives by adjusting their programs and policies, facilitating access to funding, and by recognizing their right to self-determination and acknowledging their traditional knowledge. Private sector investment can help address needs and achieve goals, provide long-term benefits, and increase resources available for the implementation of restoration projects.

Freshwater Management

About the CEC

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established in 1994 by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a parallel environmental agreement to NAFTA. As of 2020, the CEC is recognized and maintained by the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, in parallel with the new Free Trade Agreement of North America. The CEC brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, Indigenous people, youth, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the business sector, to seek solutions to protect North America’s shared environment while supporting sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations

The CEC is governed and funded equally by the Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Government of the United States of Mexico through the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, and the Government of the United States of America through the Environmental Protection Agency.

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