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Experiences with integrative Indigenous and Western knowledge in water research and management: a systematic realist review of literature from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States

Publication: Environmental Reviews
4 April 2017


The implementation of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems in integrative water research and management is gaining prominence in the realm of academia, particularly in four countries with a shared, albeit different, history of British colonialism: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. While integrative water research in particular is gaining popularity, currently there is a gap in our understanding regarding where, when, why, how, and for whom this type of research has been successful. A systematic review method was used to identify peer-reviewed literature from each of the four countries and to understand where and when integrative water research projects were taking place. Then, we used a realist review method to synthesize and analyze the included peer-reviewed literature to determine why, how, and for whom this type of research has been successful, or not. Our systematic literature search provided 669 peer-reviewed articles from across the four countries, of which 97 met our inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Our findings indicate that the total number of integrative water research projects has been increasing since 2009, though these projects are largely concentrated within the realm of social science and conducted by non-Indigenous authors. Recognition of the value of Indigenous knowledge systems, coupled with an understanding that the use of Western knowledge systems alone has not remedied the disparity in access to safe water sources in Indigenous communities, has led researchers to recommend collaborative partnerships and governance structures as a potential pathway to effective integrative water research. Our research was conducted to enhance contemporary understanding of the strengths of implementing Indigenous and Western knowledge systems and to encourage readers to continue working towards a common goal of reconciliation and equality in all partnerships.


La mise en œuvre de systèmes de connaissances indigènes et occidentales sur le plan de la recherche intégrée sur les eaux et de gestion de l’eau prend de l’importance dans le milieu universitaire, particulièrement dans quatre pays qui ont une histoire partagée, bien que différente, de colonialisme britannique : le Canada, l’Australie, la Nouvelle-Zélande et les États-Unis. Tandis que la recherche intégrée sur les eaux en particulier gagne en popularité, actuellement il y a une lacune dans notre compréhension quant à où, quand, pourquoi, comment et pour qui ce type de recherche a eu du succès. Une méthode de revue systématique a été utilisée afin de déterminer la littérature évaluée par les pairs de chacun des quatre pays et de comprendre où et quand des projets de recherche intégrée sur les eaux avaient eu lieu. Alors, nous avons utilisé une méthode de revue réaliste afin de résumer et d’analyser la littérature évaluée par les pairs incluse pour déterminer pourquoi, comment et pour qui ce type de recherche a eu du succès, ou non. Notre recherche systématique de la littérature a fourni près de 669 articles évalués par les pairs provenant des quatre pays, dont 97 ont satisfait nos critères d’inclusion et ont été analysés. Nos résultats indiquent que le nombre total de projets de recherche intégrée sur les eaux a augmenté depuis 2009, quoique ces projets soient en grande partie concentrés dans le domaine des sciences sociales et soient menés par des auteurs non indigènes. La reconnaissance de la valeur des systèmes de connaissances indigènes, ainsi que la compréhension que l’utilisation de systèmes de connaissances occidentales seulement n’a pas remédié à la disparité d’accessibilité aux sources d’eau salubre dans les communautés indigènes, sont des facteurs qui ont poussé les chercheurs à recommander des partenariats de collaboration et des structures de gouvernance comme voie possible vers la recherche intégrée sur les eaux qui soit efficace. Notre recherche a été menée en vue d’améliorer la compréhension actuelle des forces de mise en œuvre des systèmes de connaissances indigènes et occidentales et d’encourager les lecteurs à continuer à travailler à un but commun de réconciliation et d’égalité dans tous les partenariats. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

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cover image Environmental Reviews
Environmental Reviews
Volume 25Number 3September 2017
Pages: 323 - 333


Received: 5 December 2016
Accepted: 30 March 2017
Accepted manuscript online: 4 April 2017
Version of record online: 4 April 2017


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Key Words

  1. Indigenous knowledge
  2. integrative water research
  3. knowledge implementation
  4. systematic realist review
  5. water


  1. connaissances indigènes
  2. recherche intégrée sur les eaux
  3. mise en œuvre des connaissances
  4. revue systématique réaliste
  5. eau



Robert D. Stefanelli [email protected]
Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University, Mackintosh Corry Hall, D201, 99 University Ave., Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.
Heather Castleden
Department of Geography and Planning, and Public Health Sciences, Queen’s University, Mackintosh Corry Hall, D201, 99 University Ave., Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.
Sherilee L. Harper
Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Stewart Building, 2524, 50 Stone Road E., Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
Debbie Martin
School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, Dalhousie University Stairs House, P.O. Box 15000, 6230 South Street, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada.
Ashlee Cunsolo
Labrador Institute, Memorial University, Room 110, College of the North Atlantic Building, P.O. Box 490, Station B, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL A0P 1E0, Canada.
Catherine Hart
Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University, Mackintosh Corry Hall, D201, 99 University Ave., Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.


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