Can Western Water Law Become More ‘Relational’? A Survey of Comparative Laws affecting Water across Australasia and the Americas

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Journal Article
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Informa UK Limited
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Macpherson, Elizabeth

There is increasing support, in international legal theory and advocacy, for water governance approaches that go beyond the technocratic, and recognise the reciprocal relatedness of water peoples and water places. Such an approach may seem logical within certain Indigenous law and belief systems, but can Western legal frameworks become more ‘relational’? How can they evolve to be capable of meaningfully relating with Indigenous systems of law and governance for water? This article draws on a comprehensive survey of comparative legal developments affecting water across seven settler-colonial countries in Australasia and Latin America that attempt (or profess) to be relational. I critically evaluate these attempts against the ‘yardstick’ of relationality. In each jurisdiction there are unresolved calls for a social, cultural and constitutional transformation of some sort, in which Indigenous and environmental justice are key. The analysis here reveals the potential for constitutional law to drive relational water laws, although without place-based specificity and supporting institutions, resources and redistributions of power, constitutional approaches risk having little practical impact.

Macpherson E (2022). Can Western Water Law Become More ‘Relational’? A Survey of Comparative Laws affecting Water across Australasia and the Americas. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand TNZR. 1-30.
water law, relationality, indigenous rights, constitutional law, Australasia, Americas, comparative law
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
Fields of Research::45 - Indigenous studies::4503 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental knowledges and management::450306 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and water management
Fields of Research::45 - Indigenous studies::4509 - Ngā mātauranga taiao o te Māori (Māori environmental knowledges)::450906 - Te whakahaere whenua me te wai o te Māori (Māori land and water management)
Fields of Research::48 - Law and legal studies::4802 - Environmental and resources law::480203 - Environmental law
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