Water in the West Community Seminar poster

Water in the West: Rights of Water/Rights to Water

2017 Annual Community Forum

Each year the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH) at the University of Calgary identifies a theme of pressing concern to our city, and invites three distinguished researchers to offer their perspectives on it.  This year’s seminar, our 37th, addressed access to water.

Water is a potent symbol in so many cultures and religions because it is foundational to life.  Water connects everything on the blue planet: the human, the animal, and the material world.  Here in Western Canada, one vast watershed extends from the Rocky Mountains, crosses the prairies, and flows into James Bay, crossing all kinds of different human-made boundaries.

In the face of global climate change, water is an increasingly precious resource. On July 28, 2010, the United Nations “explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights”.  There have been notable failures in our country to provide access to this resource, particularly in our First Nations’ communities.  These failures are linked to larger systemic problems identified in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Both the TRC on the one hand, and the environmental movement on the other, challenge us to consider not just the way we have managed our water, but how we have thought about it, and how we might balance competing claims on water in the future.  How can we rethink our relation to water?  While stressing the human right to water, do we need to think at the same time about our responsibility to water?  Do non-human entities such as fish, plants and water itself have rights? What might different spiritual or cultural traditions tell us about our duty to water? What might our duty to water tell us about our connection to each other?


Water Rites: Reimagining Water in the West documents the many ways that water flows through our lives, connecting the humans, animals, and plants that all depend on this precious and endangered resource. With a special focus on Environmental and Indigenous issues, Water Rites explores how deeply water is tied to human life. Published by University of Calgary Press.

Digital research dossier produced by Mohammad Sadeghi Esfahlani, PhD, MBA

Invited Panelists

David Laidlaw

  • Research Fellow - Canadian Institute of Resources Law, University of Calgary

Michelle Daigle

  • Postdoctoral Fellow - Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

Adrian Parr

  • UNESCO Co-Chair of Water Access and Sustainability
  • Director of the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center
  • Professor (Political Science and the School of Architecture and Interior Design), University of Cincinnat

Forum Moderator: Tasha Hubbard

  • Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Saskatchewan

Opening Welcome: Elder Wallace Alexson

David Laidlaw

Research interests:  Aboriginal law, legal history and philosophy of law.

Bio: David practiced briefly in Aboriginal law in the early 1990s but his ongoing interest in the area of Aboriginal Law has led him to return to Law School at the University of Calgary after two decades of practice. Ever since, he is explored this area and its implications for indigenous groups and the public in Alberta and throughout Canada. He is currently engaged in research in aboriginal issues for the Canadian Institute of Resources Law (CIRL).

Currently a research fellow with the Canadian Institute of Resources Law, he holds a BSc in Computer Science and Economics from the University of Calgary (1985), LLB from Dalhousie University (1988), admitted to the Bar (1989) and an LLM from the University of Calgary (2013). His ongoing research presentations have been funded by the Alberta Law Foundation, Cenovus Energy Inc. and the ATCO Group.

Theme Related Work: He has recently completed an Updated Handbook (2016), to account for the new Consultation Guidelines (2014) and other recent developments, funded by the Alberta Law Foundation. His ongoing research presentations have been funded by the Alberta Law Foundation, Cenovus Energy Inc., the ATCO Group and several First Nations.


Laidlaw, D., & Passelac-Ross, M. (2010). Water Rights and Water Stewardship: What about Aboriginal Peoples? (Resources No. 107). Calgary. Retrieved from http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/47784/1/Resources107.pdf

Laidlaw, D., & Passelac-Ross, M. (2014). Alberta First Nations Consultation & Accommodation Handbook (CIRL No. 44). Calgary. Retrieved from http://prism.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/50216/1/ConsultationHandbookOP44.pdf

Laidlaw, D. (2014). Alberta First Nations Consultation & Accommodation Handbook – Updated to 2016 (CIRL No. 53). Calgary. Retrieved from http://www.cirl.ca/files/cirl/consultationupdateop53.pdf


Alberta First Nations Consultation & Accommodation Handbook – Updated to 2016”. Presentation Slides http://www.cirl.ca/files/cirl/2016may12_laidlaw_consultation.pdf

“Indigenous Research Seminar Series to present David Laidlaw Nov. 5, 2014”. University of Calgary Honour of the Crown in Aboriginal dealings. https://www.ucalgary.ca/utoday/issue/2013-11-04/indigenous-research-seminar-series-present-david-laidlaw-nov-5

“Water: Too much or Too little?”. University of Calgary Sustainability Speakers Series 2, November 24, 2016. http://go.ucalgary.ca/2016-11-24SustainabilitySpeakerSeries2_LPRegistration.html

Michelle Daigle

Bio: Dr. Michelle Daigle is Mushkegowuk (Cree) and a member of Constance Lake First Nation, located in the Treaty 9 territory. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, located on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Musqueam nation. Her current research examines the impacts of extractive development in Indigenous territories, with a particular focus on water and gender. Simultaneously, her work focusses on how Indigenous forms of governance and self-determination are embodied through the resurgence of land/water-based practices.


Daigle, M. (2016), Awawanenitakik: The spatial politics of recognition and relational geographies of Indigenous self-determination. The Canadian Geographer, 60: 259–269. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cag.12260/abstract

Adrian Parr

Research interests:  Water justice, cultural politics, environmental politics, political philosophy, feminist philosophy, contemporary continental philosophy.

Bio: Adrian Parr holds a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and the School of Architecture and Interior Design, at the University of Cincinnati. She is an environmental, political, and cultural theorist, philosopher and critic. Her research focuses on environmental politics, water access, and the built environment.

In 2011, Parr received the distinguished Rieveschl Award for Scholarly and Creative Work. In 2013, she co-directed the Future Cities; Livable Futures symposium—a public event that provided a platform for attendees to share and discuss the future of urban life in topics such as sustainable urban development, increasing population, inadequate infrastructure, poor social services, escalating health problems, and challenges posed by climate change.

Born in Sydney Australia, her father, Mike Parr, and her aunt, Julie Rrap, are contemporary Australian artists who introduced Parr to the world of radical and activist culture at an early age. She attended elementary school for a period in Vienna, Austria and as a child traveled with her parents throughout the former East Bloc and West Europe.

Theme Related Work: In 2013 Professor Adrian Parr and Professor Dion Dionysiou, also with the University of Cincinnati, were appointed as UNESCO Co-Chairs of Water Accessibility and Sustainability.


Parr, A. (2015). The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics – Reflections. Geoforum, 62, 70–72. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.03.012

Parr, A., & Zaretsky, M. (2010). New Directions in Sustainable Design. Routledge. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=839eBwAAQBAJ&dq=water+unesco+adrian+parr&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Parr, A. (2009). Hijacking Sustainability. International (Vol. 22). MIT Press. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/hijacking-sustainability

Parr, A. (2005). The Deleuze Dictionary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Deleuze_Dictionary.html?id=OsVOy4s1QLMC&redir_esc=y

Tasha Hubbard

Tasha Hubbard is a writer, filmmaker, Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of English, and the mother of a 10 year-old son. Her first solo writing/directing project Two Worlds Colliding (2004), about Saskatoon’s infamous Starlight Tours, premiered at ImagineNATIVE in 2004, was broadcast on CBC’s documentary program Roughcuts in 2004, and won the Canada Award at the 2005 Geminis. Her recent short film 7 Minutes won Best Short Non-fiction at the Golden Sheaf Awards. She also recently completed a NFB-produced feature documentary about a 60s Scoop family reunited for the first time. As part of her academic work, Tasha does research on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the buffalo, Indigenous ecologies, and Indigenous film. 

Community Links

The following community links include selected organizations that are relevant to the topic of this year’s community forum. 

First Nations

Government Organizations

Provincial Watershed Organizations

Other Non-Government Organizations

Learn more about our annual Community Forums