Amanda Klasing is women’s rights senior researcher with Human Rights Watch (, an independent international organization that defends the rights of people worldwide. It investigates abuses, expose facts and puts pressure on those with power to respect human rights. One of Klasing’s projects documented the right to water and sanitation in Ontario. The project started by uncovering evidence of that rights’ violation and establishing that this is a pattern in First Nation communities. Demonstrating that the right to water is sometimes violated in resource-rich countries showed that this issue is not just about money. Other issues such as discrimination may be at play. The ultimate goal of the project was determining how to get people without water and proper sanitation access.

Klasing explained that one key factor is the lack of enforceable regulations on reserves. The existing Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act needs to be repealed and rewritten, maintenance funding needs to be increased and funding needs to be used more efficiently. So how do we hold the government accountable, especially when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in 2015 that he would end all boil water advisories in First Nation communities within five years? Klasing recommends using United Nations Human Rights Council periodic reviews to monitor Canada’s progress.

Prof Aimée Craft (University of Ottawa), always knew that she would have to “work for water.”  She is currently writing a book, and shared a passage where a non-Indigenous man was discussing law with an Elder, who replied “you don’t believe in your laws, so why should I?”  Most Indigenous laws are circled around interconnected relationships with plants, fish, Mother Earth, animals, Creator, water, crawlers, birds, spirits and Anishinaabeg (people). There are four kinds of Indigenous laws: sacred law, ancestral/customary law, natural law and human law. These laws do not tell you what do, but tell you what is there. Indigenous law principles of water: water has spirit, water is life, water can heal, water can suffer, we don’t own water, and women are responsible for water.


What are some of the ethics of working with communities?

Klasing said you need to develop a relationship with the community, working together to create a common goal. Researchers need to be in constant dialogue with the communities, keeping them involved in the project. Focus on the small wins, as this can be a very long process.

Using Indigenous laws, would you build a dam?

Think of the spiritual law water is life and the natural law water must flow. The dam may make the water unable to flow. In customary law, you could not stop water from flowing unless there was a very good reason, with reparation to all beings living in the water and on the shore for breaching natural and spiritual laws.

Audio podcasts are also available for seminars in this series.