Indigenous and Western Knowledge: Bringing Diverse Understandings of Water Together in Practice


Samantha Mehltretter, Sheri Longboat, Brittany Luby and Andrea Bradford


This technical report provides a way of understanding and a bringing together of different water knowledges (Indigenous and ‘Western’) in ways that respect each other from Turtle Island (North America). This allows for the restoration freshwater systems at a local to global level in an ethical, responsible and effective way.

The importance of multiple perspectives in understanding human-nature relationships and associated benefits for biodiversity, ecosystems and overall quality of human life, is underscored by Indigenous Peoples’ values, worldviews and knowledge systems. Indigenous Peoples, while geographically, linguistically and culturally diverse, share common cultural and spiritual beliefs that elevate the value of water beyond material function. For many Indigenous Peoples, water is a living entity with inherent value to be revered and protected – an essential relationship that extends beyond dominant Western approaches that value water as a resource only for the economic, social and environmental benefits provided to humans. While efforts are being made to bring diverse Indigenous and Western values, worldviews and knowledge systems together to restore freshwater systems, on a practical level the question remains: “how to do so?” in an ethical and responsible way.

This report responds to that gap by synthesising insights gained through a review of documented experiences from projects across the area currently known as Canada and the United States. After a brief introduction to set the context, we present insights in two primary sections on principles and practices. The report is intended to be a resource for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples engaged in the co-development of context-specific approaches that aim to heal social-ecological freshwater systems and essential reciprocal relationships.


Mehltretter, S. et al. (2023), Indigenous and Western Knowledge: Bringing Diverse Understandings of Water Together in Practice (Technical Report), Global Commission on the Economics of Water, Paris.

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