6. Executive Summary

Tracking Change: Local and Traditional Knowledge in Watershed Governance is a six year research program funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and led by the University of Alberta, Mackenzie River Basin Board, the Government of the Northwest Territories in collaboration with many other valued Aboriginal organization partners and universities. The broad goal of the project is to create opportunities to collaboratively document and share local and traditional knowledge (LTK) about social-ecological change in the Mackenzie River Basin, Lower Mekong and Lower Amazon Basins and determine its’ role in watershed governance. In 2016-17, the project aims to address the following themes and priorities:

Themes and Priorities for Tracking Change… Sub-Projects in 2016-2017

  • historical and contemporary observations and perceptions of conditions and change in the health of the aquatic environment (e.g., water quality, quantity, flow, groundwater, permafrost conditions);
  • historical and contemporary observations and perceptions of conditions and change in fish species (population, movements, diversity, invasive species) and other aquatic species (e.g., geese, beaver);
  • sustainability of fishing livelihoods (e.g., harvesting levels and practices, diet, health, access issues, perceptions of change in the health of valued fish species);
  • implications of change for governance (e.g., how maintain healthy relationships to the aquatic ecosystem, maintaining respectful and spiritual relationships, respecting treaty rights);

In 2016, twelve research projects were funded (through a request for proposals process) that involved similar kinds of research methods and activities including fish camps, canoe trips, youth-elder knowledge exchanges, semi-structured interviews, workshops and secondary literature reviews. An interview guide and a “toolbox” of methods was provided to guide communities seeking to carry out their research projects in ways considered synergistic (linked) to other projects in the basin.

Reports were shared in December 2016 from the following organizations:

  • Nacho Nayak Dun First Nation
  • Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee
  • Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board / Gwich’in Tribal Council
  • Sahtú Renewable Resources Board
  • Deh Cho First Nations
  • Wek’èezhìı Renewable Resources Board
  • Akaitcho Territorial Government
  • Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation
  • Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta
  • Mikisew Cree First Nation
  • Treaty 8 Tribal Association (British Columbia)

Many oral histories, narratives and observations were documented about local issues of concern and of priority to local communities. The key themes and issues that were highlighted in these reports included the following:

The Mackenzie River basin is a network in which people are interconnected with the aquatic ecosystem in many different ways. A holistic understanding of the social, economic, cultural and ecological changes occurring in the basin is necessary to ensure that aquatic ecosystems are managed in ways that ensure the continued health and well-being of the Basin’s Indigenous communities;

The Mackenzie River is a dynamic cultural landscape in which local economies and cultures have been shaped by the seasonality as well as year to year variability in the availability and condition of basin resources;

Fishing is important to the culture and well-being of communities in the Mackenzie River Basin and is an inherent right protected both by the Canadian constitution as well as in Treaties and comprehensive land claim agreements.

More than 20 species, and thousands of pounds of fish are harvested annually in the main river, the deltas and the numerous tributary rivers and lakes that comprise the Mackenzie River basin. Fresh fish, dry fish and related dietary uses of fish have very high nutritional value, and are particularly important to food security in areas where other traditional/country food resources are variable or limited and where market foods are not an economically or nutritionally valuable alternative.

Traditional practices for respecting (managing) fish and fish habitat are evident throughout the basin. These practices and have developed based on generations of Traditional Knowledge. For example, ‘take only what you need’, is the common principle for those fishing throughout the Basin.

Indigenous communities play different roles in the governance of the Basin depending on the jurisdiction. Although there are co-management boards and cooperative arrangements with territorial governments and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, that create opportunities for ongoing recognition of Traditional Knowledge in the management of fish stocks and key fishing areas in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, no such arrangements exist in British Columbia, Alberta or Saskatchewan;

In some jurisdictions, governments have created a clear role for traditional knowledge in decision-making about water resources. Where there is greater respect for traditional knowledge, resource conflicts are fewer. For example, in the Northwest Territories, respectful inclusion of traditional knowledge is embedded in the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy. In British Columbia, where resource conflicts and uncertainties about natural resources are more common, there is little to no recognition of traditional knowledge (See British Columbia Water Sustainability Act `{`2016`}`).

Although practices have changed over the last century, contemporary harvesting and use of fish continues to contribute significantly to the diets and economies of Indigenous communities;

The high cost of fuel, boats and equipment is a challenge for some community members highly dependent on fishing for food security;

The nature of fishing livelihoods varies from community to community as a result of many environmental and socio-economic factors. For example, wage employment affects how much time is available for fishing with consequent implications for household food security (i.e., families who have less time to fish eat less traditional / country foods);

In some communities who have limited access to healthy water and fishing resources, there are concerns about the continuity of knowledge and skills beyond the current generation. For example, elders in northern British Columbia and northern Alberta have have limited opportunities to teach their grandchildren about traditional fishing practices.

Indigenous youth are seeking different kinds of opportunities to influence the governance of the Mackenzie River Basin to ensure that their rights and interests fishing resources are respected for the future;

Unusual Observations and Patterns in Aquatic Ecosystems

Resource Development

Community-Based Monitoring

Local and Traditional Knowledge (TK)

Capacity Building

Youth Knowledge Fair

Graduate Students involved in Tracking Change in the Mackenzie River Basin