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In 2011, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada released the National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems as prepared by Neegan Burnside Ltd. This assessment has been largely used by government, media, and Indigenous groups to point to the decrepit state of water and wastewater systems on First Nations reserves across the country, and to advance Senate Government Bill S-8 that seeks to improve conditions in these communities. In this article, I provide a critique of the National Assessment to outline its underlying assimilationist ideology and to demonstrate how technical engineering documents can have political implications. Power is wielded by technocratic discourses like engineering and, in this case, respect for Indigenous rights and sovereignty are at stake when so-called “objective” practices reflect institutional power.
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