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Governing Transboundary Waters

Canada, the United States and Indigenous Communities

By Emma S. Norman

Routledge – 2014 – 256 pages

Series: Earthscan Studies in Water Resource Management

Purchasing Options:

  • Hardback: $135.00
    October 31st 2014
    Not yet available


With almost the entire world’s water basins crossing political borders of some kind, understanding how to cooperate with one’s neighbor is of global relevance. With this aim, this book explores the nuances of transboundary water governance through the exploration of the "friendly" Canada-US border. The border is colloquially known as the "longest undefended border in the world", but in reality it is a border under increased scrutiny and security measures.

The author starts by showing how the Canada-US relationship offers a long history of analysis, with more than a century of documented shared water governance. In addition, the increased leadership of indigenous actors (First Nations and Native Americans) in the governance of shared resources provides an important avenue to challenge borders as fixed, both in terms of natural resource governance and citizenship. The historical territories of such indigenous communities may predate and challenge the current borders. Thus, the inclusion of a "third sovereign" in the discussion of Canada-U.S. relations provides a rich opportunity to analyze the cultural politics of transboundary water governance.

In this context, the book explores the issue of what makes a good up-stream neighbor and analyzes the rescaling of transboundary water governance. It highlights the role of sub-national and non-state actors in charting new territory in water governance. To highlight the changing patterns of water governance, it focuses on four case studies that grapple with transboundary water issues at different scales and with different constructions of border politics, from the Pacific coastline to the Great Lakes.


"Governing Transboundary Waters marks an important contribution to scholarship on water governance, transboundary resource management, and border studies. Whereas most studies of transboundary water management focus on state interaction, Norman brings the study down to earth, engaging with the communities involved in resource management around the international border itself. As such, she reminds us that the international border is a colonial relic that continues divide traditionally connected Indigenous Communities. Rejecting the international border as the essential arbiter of resource management is a first step in moving towards environmental justice in transboundary resource management." Kathryn Furlong, Department of Geography, Université de Montréal, Canada.

"Norman provides a much-needed re-framing of transboundary governance from Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and celebrates the achievements made by First Nations and Tribes to date in successfully re-uniting communities across state borders and rescaling transboundary watersheds. A compelling read and one that should be required reading for anyone working in watershed governance at the border." Jennifer L. Archer, Archer Law Corporation and Rivers without Borders, Vancouver, Canada.


1. Introduction: Water, Borders, Scale and Power

Part 1: Rescaling Transboundary Water Governance

2. Mobilising Theory

3. From Supranatural to Intertribal: Transboundary Governance at Different Scales

4. Rescaling Water Governance: From Federal-Federal to International Watershed Initiatives

Part 2: Indigenous Water Governance: Re/ordering Transnational Space

5. Shellfish Harvesting in Boundary Bay: Transboundary Environmental Justice and the Politics of Counting

6. "We are the Ones that We are Waiting For." Indigenous Leadership in Transborder Environmental Governance

7. The Canoe Journey: Paddling for Change

8. Walking Gichigami: Mother Earth Water Walks and Environmental Advocacy

9. What Boundary, What Whale? Whose Responsibility? The Blurring of Political and Cultural Boundaries in Marine Governance

10. Conclusion and Reflections: What Makes a Good Upstream Neighbour?

Author Bio

Emma S. Norman is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Michigan Technological University, USA. Previously she worked in the Program on Water Governance, University of British Columbia, Canada, and for ten years was on the Faculty, Native Environmental Science Program, Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, Washington State.

Name: Governing Transboundary Waters: Canada, the United States and Indigenous Communities (Hardback)Routledge 
Description: By Emma S. Norman. With almost the entire world’s water basins crossing political borders of some kind, understanding how to cooperate with one’s neighbor is of global relevance. With this aim, this book explores the nuances of transboundary water...
Categories: Environmental Issues, Environmental Geography, Native American Studies, Indigenous Peoples, Regional Geography - Human Geography, Environmental Management, Environment & Resources, Environment & Society, Global Governance, International Law, Conflict Resolution, Environmental Politics