Some residents of Manitoba’s Island Lake First Nations get by on less than 15 litres of clean water per day – the amount the United Nations recommends in disaster zones. About 3,400 First Nations homes do not have indoor plumbing and more than 100 First Nations communities are under a drinking water advisory. Approximately 39% of water systems and 14% of sanitation systems on First Nations are classified as “high risk.” The cost of fixing these problems is estimated at $4.7 billion. While 96% of Canadians believe that clean water should be guaranteed as a human right, rallying public support is difficult.


Roseau_small* demonstrate the increasing costs of continued inaction and investigate the viability of alternative financing;

* evaluate the relative strengths of legal or rights-based clean-water claims; and

* elaborate Anishinabe water law (nibi inaakonigewin) frameworks.

The results will aid in developing evidence-based advocacy strategies that reflect First Nations’ interests, perspectives, and knowledge.

Three mutually supportive research clusters are working with and in First Nations communities.

* One cluster led by Dr. Melanie O’Gorman uses an economic analysis to highlight the importance of water infrastructure investments on reserve. This analysis emphasizes that the cost of providing improved water and sanitation infrastructure is high, however the cost of doing nothing is also high.

* Another cluster led by Prof. Karen Busby and Aimée Craft is investigating Anishinaabe water law and analyzing the nature and strength of potential rights-based claims to achieve clean water and effective sanitation.

* The third cluster led by Dr. Katherine Starzyk is investigating what advocacy strategies First Nations peoples would find acceptable and exploring Canadians’ attitudes toward the issue through interviews, online nationally representative surveys, experimental studies using video clips and an innovative Photovoice project.

See details of our annual summer research conference, in conjunction with the CREATE H2O science and engineering training program.

Research partners


This project was led by Centre for Human Rights Research founder Karen Busby. Partners include the Assembly of Manitoba ChiefsManitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the University of Winnipeg, Brock University, the Public Interest Law Centre, the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources and Amnesty International Canada.

This project is financially supported by a 2013-16 Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, partner organizations and the Manitoba Law Foundation through the Legal Research Institute.

See information on other projects by the University of Manitoba’s water rights research consortium.