Originality

The governance of fresh-water river basins is among the most pressing challenges of our time (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2012; Gupta and Pahl Wostl 2013). The task of governance is greatest in multi-jurisdictional environments such as those of the Mackenzie (1), Mekong (2) and Amazon (3) River Basins (Fig. 1). The Mackenzie River Basin is home to First Nations, Métis and Inuvialuit peoples who value the river as the basis of livelihood and well-being (MRBB 2003). The Mekong and Amazon River Basins also underlie the economies, culture and health of ethnic Lao peoples of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and the Caboclos communities of Brazil (Silvano and Valbo-Jorgensen 2008; Baird and Flaherty 2005; Baran and Baird 2003; Valbo-Jorgenson and Poulsen 2000). The knowledge of these subsistence river users has long been overlooked – viewed as only “local in scope, relevance, and power, whereas the rules and knowledge of the state have much bigger scope and significance” (Lebel et al. 2005: 18). Although the local perspective is critical, the knowledge of these communities can also yield insights about social- ecological change at larger scales of study and governance. This has been done elsewhere in research on marine ecosystem health (Berkes 2001; Gadgil et al. 2003; Haggan et al. 2007; Ommer 2007) and that on climate change (Nuttall et al. 2005; Krupnik et al. 2010; Pulsifer et al. 2011). A coordinated approach to local and traditional knowledge (LTK) research in river systems has yet to develop to the same extent. This knowledge gap is problematic for co- management boards, Aboriginal governments and others in the Mackenzie River Basin, who are mandated to include LTK in resource management decisions and practices including monitoring (e.g., IJS 2014; GRRB, 2014; SRRB 2014, DCFN 2014, GNWT 2010; 2014, MRBB 2003). Previous research in this region has been fragmented and patchy owing to uneven access to research resources and limited how-to insights for linking LTK of many communities together across socio- political boundaries. A bottom-up and networked approach to LTK research involving multiple communities, regional organizations and governments can yield “big picture” insights about core issues of social-ecological change while at the same time increasing the capacity of communities to continue to generate LTK beyond the life of this Partnership grant.

 

Fig.1 – Global Map of’ Study Regions

There are many issues of social-ecological change in these Basins but the sustainability of fishing livelihoods is of common importance. Subsistence fishers are recognized harbingers of ecological change; the sustainability of their communities reflects on the sustainability of the resources they depend upon for livelihood and well-being (MEA 2003; Ommer 2008). Fishers downstream of major resource development activities, for example, can signal problems in the sustainability of upstream activities. The insights go beyond Canada; linkages to similar work in the Mekong (Valbo- Jørgensen and Poulsen 2000; Lebel et al. 2005; Baird 2007) and Amazon (Begossi 2000; 2008; Silvano and Valbo-Jørgensen 2008) will provide opportunities to explore global trends and patterns in river system sustainability. Research outcomes and activities will strengthen local and regional stewardship of subsistence fisheries, educate upstream river users of the downstream social- ecological implications of their activities, improve the decision-making capacity of institutions at different scales (e.g., see list of Partner Organizations) to include LTK in decisions and create international awareness of how global pressures (e.g., climate change) manifest in Mackenzie- Mekong-Amazon ecosystems and communities.

 

The need to track such social-ecological change in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon has never been more urgent. Those living in these Basins are experiencing similar pressures of natural resource development (mining, oil & gas activity, hydro-electric project expansion) as well as climate change (Booth and Skelton 20011; Wiles et al 1999; Cohen 1997; Grubmine and Xu 2011). Alarmingly, there is little understood about these stresses on the biodiversity of these ecosystems and about the implications for those dependent upon their continued health and sustainability (Fausch et al. 2002; Hirsch and Wyatt 2004; CBC 2012). Many areas of these river basins have also become contested landscapes (Bridge 2004; Molle et al. 2009). Conflicting interpretations of changes occurring in the Athabasca river system, for example, have drawn international attention (Schindler 2010; Remillard 2011). Some consider the conflicts to be methodological and epistemological while others attribute them to socio-economic and political inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples (Howitt 2001). Creating opportunities for communities to voice their observations and experiences of environmental change through this Partnership may go a long way to addressing the lack of fit that currently exists between the local scale of meaning, (where ecological problems are acutely experienced) and those associated with formal institutions of decision-making (von Porten and de Loë 2013; Lebel et al. 2005). The Partnership will create opportunities for meaningfully addressing these research gaps and untangling perspectives on social-ecological change in these important fresh water ecosystems.