IJC's Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples

Meeting between the IJC and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, 2019

The journey so far: Building awareness, relationships and respect 


Community engagement and outreach is critical to the work of the IJC. In any proceeding, inquiry or matter before the IJC, the Commission provides all interested parties with a convenient opportunity to be heard. The IJC understands and recognizes the importance of building and maintaining effective relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the transboundary in fulfilling its commitment to engaging all interests in its areas of responsibility.     


Relationship-building takes time. Through the early part of its history, Indigenous collaboration did not figure prominently in IJC’s work. More recently, IJC has invited and collaborated with Indigenous experts across the Great Lakes and elsewhere along the boundary. Examples of outreach and contributions in IJC’s recent history include: 



  • Indigenous representatives invited to participate in IJC Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Biennial Meetings. 


  • In 1987, Henry Lickers, Haudenosaunee Citizen of the Seneca Nation and director of the Mohawks of Akwesasne Department of the Environment, became the first Indigenous appointment to an IJC board.   




  • In 1998, the governments of Canada and the United States requested inclusion of Indigenous Nations and local interests in the development of International Watershed Boards.  




  • Two positions created for Indigenous members on the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study Board (2000-2005).  
  • Meetings hosted at Akwesasne and Tyendinaga in Ontario. 


  • Chief Earl Klyne of Seine River First Nation joined the Rainy Lake Control Board in 2002.  


  • In 2007, the International Upper Great Lakes Study reserved positions for Indigenous representatives on its Public Interest Advisory Group. In 2008 and 2009, two "circles of influence" workshops were held with First Nations in Toronto and Bkejwanong (Walpole Island). 


  • The Passamaquoddy and Peskotomuhkati delegated observers to attend International St. Croix River Watershed Board meetings. 




  • The 2010, the Lake of the Woods Governance Study engaged with Grand Council Treaty #3 Nations, Tribes and the Métis Nation of Ontario in the watershed, as did the subsequent Lake of the Woods Water Quality Plan of Study (2014) and Rainy River-Namakan Lake Rule Curves Review (2015-2017). 


  • Several more IJC boards, including the updated Great Lakes Water Quality Board (2012), the newly formed International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board (2013), the Osoyoos Lake Board of Control and the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board welcomed Indigenous members to the table for the first time. 


  • In 2014, IJC Commissioners visited Shoal Lake for a tour of the Winnipeg Diversion project and to learn about its long-standing impacts on First Nation communities. 




  • Indigenous Nations on both sides of the Canada–United States border participated in flood studies in the Souris River basin (2017-2021) and the Lake Champlain and Richelieu River watershed (2017-2022). 


  • In April 2017, the Great Lakes Water Quality Board adopted Indigenous Peoples Engagement Principles and Practices, founded on the recognition that First Nations, the Métis Nation and Tribes are not "stakeholders" but hold distinct rights in governance and self-determination. 


  • In preparation for the 2017, 2020 and 2023 Triennial Assessments of Progress on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the IJC hosted in-person listening sessions with Indigenous Peoples in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Akwesasne, Ontario, and Petoskey, Michigan at the Native American Fish and Wildlife Symposium. Several virtual sessions were also convened.  


  • In May 2019, the IJC welcomed Indigenous board members and contributors to a workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, to discuss how the IJC can engage more meaningfully with Indigenous Peoples. 
  • In 2019, Henry Lickers was appointed as the first Indigenous IJC Commissioner. 


  • In 2019, Commissioners emphasized greater engagement and collaboration with Indigenous Peoples as a priority for the IJC.  




  • In April 2021, the IJC hosted a two-day virtual gathering that brought together Indigenous knowledge holders, academics, scientists, water resources practitioners, students, IJC staff and other experts passionate about protecting shared waters. The meeting was the result of months of planning and guidance from a group of external Indigenous and non-Indigenous advisers who generously helped to shape its content and flow. 


  • In November 2021, the International St. Mary and Milk Rivers Study Board committed to: engage Indigenous Nations residing or having land in the basin through a dedicated advisory group; encourage participation of key Nations on the study’s government forum alongside federal, provincial and state entities; and encourage contributions from Indigenous experts working as members of the study’s technical working groups. 
  • Resulting from initial collaboration with Indigenous Nations on the International Souris River Study and recommendations from the study board, the International Souris River Board established an Indigenous Advisory Committee and added three Indigenous members. 
  • In December 2023, Dr. Susan (Sue) Bell Chiblow of Garden River First Nation was appointed as an IJC Commissioner. 

The Commission welcomes the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge and ways of working to complement and inform IJC’s traditional Western science approach. Inviting Indigenous Peoples to collaborate with the IJC cannot be accomplished as a single, stand-alone, time-limited project. Building relationships and creating an environment within the IJC that establishes trust and welcomes and supports collaboration requires a collective and ongoing commitment. Supported by an Indigenous Collaboration Team comprised of IJC staff, the Commission continues building and maintaining the institutional capacity necessary to invite and facilitate the collaboration of Indigenous Peoples in IJC’s work. Longer term, this means Indigenous participation in the Commission’s work becomes institutionalized. In doing so, Canada and the United States will share boundary and transboundary waters that are studied, managed and used for the benefit of all peoples through the participation of all peoples.