AFN BULLETIN – United Nations Water Conference 2023

AFN BULLETIN – United Nations Water Conference 2023

May 2, 2023


      • The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) sent a delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the International Decade for Action or the “UN Water Conference” in New York, from March 22 to 24, 2023.
      • The AFN’s delegation was led by Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse and Judy Wilson (Proxy, Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek)
      • The UN Water Conference focused on assessing progress made for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: clean water and sanitation for all.


Co-hosted by the Governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands, the 2023 UN Water Conference marked the first water conference in decades. The event provided an opportunity for Member States, intergovernmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples, industry, and civil society organizations to assess the progress made on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. The intent of the event was to mobilize action, solutions, and potential funding to address the global water crisis. Dialogue themes included water for health, sustainable development, climate resilience and environment, cooperation, and the Water Action Decade.

The AFN sent a delegation to the UN Water Conference that took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from March 22-24, 2023.


For decades, the global water crisis has been steadily growing in severity, with Indigenous Peoples and marginalized societies being the most impacted. The ongoing pressures on water quality and quantity call for collective efforts to bring about the transformative change necessary for equitable access to water and sanitation at the national and international levels.

AFN Priorities at the UN Water Conference

The AFN continues to advance several priorities related to water stewardship and safe drinking water for First Nations, consistent with five resolutions: 23/2022 Re-Commitment to Co-Development of Replacement Legislation for Safe Drinking Water for First Nations, 44/2021 Support for a First Nation-led Pathway to the Sustainable Development Goals, and 43/2021, Support for First Nations Inherent Rights, Title and Jurisdiction of Water Stewardship, including the Traditional Roles of First Nations Women, 53/2019 Human Right to Clean Drinking Water, and 1/2019 First Nations Treaty and Inherent Rights to Water.

AFN objectives at the event were to:

  • Amplify First Nations’ perspectives on water stewardship on the international stage;
  • Bring international attention to the current state of First Nations drinking water and sanitation, which continues to be in crisis and is characterized by a lack of sufficient access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water and adequate sanitation;
  • Support and advocate for the full and effective participation of First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples more broadly at the United Nations; and
  • Advocate for First Nations-led solutions and responses to the global water crisis and the UN Water Action Agenda.


AFN’s delegation at the UN Water Conference was led by Manitoba Regional Chief (RC) Cindy Woodhouse, Judy Wilson as Proxy for the Yukon RC. Highlights included:

  • The AFN delegation participated in the Indigenous Peoples Pre-Summit from March 19-20, 2023, where RC Woodhouse updated on AFN’s ongoing advocacy work on safe drinking water, and Proxy Judy Wilson spoke about the critical role of First Nations women, girls, and gender diverse individuals in preserving and transmitting knowledge on water.
  • The AFN delegation participated in a water ceremony along the East River on World Water Day, March 22, where Anishinaabe grandmother Lisa Bellanger sang a women’s water blessing song. José Francisco Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ambassador Bob Rae, and Environment and Climate Change Canada Parliamentary Secretary Terry Duguid were in attendance.
  • RC Woodhouse participated on several panels, including a Special Event on Reducing Inequalities and Implementing Human Rights, where she called for a UN resolution at the next UN General Assembly and High Level Political Forum for the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in SDG 6 and upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples to safe water, governance, and decision-making related to water.
  • Proxy Judy Wilson provided opening remarks at an event on Indigenous-led conservation of freshwater ecosystems, where she uplifted the ongoing work of the Seal River Watershed Alliance and the Innu Council of Ekuantishit to protect and steward their waters.


  • The Indigenous Peoples Pre-Summit resulted in an Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration for the 2023 UN Water Conference.
  • A key outcome of the conference was the Water Action Agenda, which captured over 700 commitments that were aimed at driving transformation from a global water crisis to a water-secure world in a coordinated and results-driven approach. A snapshot of commitments can be found here.
  • A key issue encountered by the AFN delegation and other delegates from Indigenous Peoples organization was the limited access to the UN Water Conference. Access to interactive dialogues as well as plenary discussions in the UN General Assembly Hall were restricted to Member States and required additional secondary passes that were severely limited in availability. As a result, the participation of Indigenous Peoples at the Conference was mostly limited to side events and special events, without scheduled opportunities for dialogue between Indigenous Peoples and Member States on the development of the UN Water Action Agenda. A letter was sent to the UN Secretary-General from Indigenous Peoples representatives detailing these challenges.

For more information, please contact:

Ayman Hammamieh
Communications Officer
Assembly of First Nations
343-573-1771 (mobile)


NationTalk Partners & Sponsors Learn More