Goal and Objectives

The broad goal is to collaboratively document and mobilize local and traditional knowledge (LTK) about social-ecological change in the Mackenzie, Mekong and Amazon and determine its’ role in watershed governance.

  • Build a multi- scale, multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural network for social science research that is meaningful locally and globally. The Partnership began with the intention of building bridges between those most sensitive to social-ecological change in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon and those involved in its’ governance. Working together with academics from multiple universities and in multiple disciplines, the Partnership will increase the capacity of LTK holders (and Partner Organizations) to bring forward knowledge they consider relevant to decision-making.
  • Build research capacity in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon: The Partnership will facilitate capacity building through community-academic collaborations in each of the sub-basins of the Mackenzie, the Lower Mekong and Lower Amazon (Tapajos Sub-Basin). Specifically, we will train and mentor students and community researchers to build knowledge for and with communities, provide opportunities to communities to network with other knowledge holders as well as identify mechanisms and processes by which communities can continue to generate LTK (i.e., tracking change). By doing so, we anticipate building a legacy from the research Partnership that extends beyond 2021.
  • Build a networks for mobilizing knowledge relevant to the governance of the Mackenzie River Basin: The Partnership is unique and significant in terms of the number and scope of Partner Organizations that have been engaged from across t Mackenzie River Basin (i.e., see Partner Organization letters of engagement). A critical base of the network is the Mackenzie River Basin Board; this institution is poised to be at the forefront of multi-scale thinking and decision-making on many emerging issues in the Basin. The board’s Traditional Knowledge Steering Committee (TKSC), along with other partner organizations, will guide the design, implementation and outcomes of the Partnership. By connecting the Board with international partners we will create a more global lens on local issues, and create opportunities to share knowledge from Canada on a global stage.
  • Foster global collaboration and knowledge sharing on common issues of watershed governance: The global partnerships being developed in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon will facilitate the co- production of knowledge on key issues of common concern (e.g., effects of hydro-electric development on subsistence). Advances in knowledge made about the sustainability of fresh water fisheries, fishing livelihoods and wellbeing, and watershed governance are anticipated to be of global significance.


Sustainability of River Fisheries and Fishing Livelihoods: The Mackenzie-Mekong and Amazon are vast areas characterized by many kinds of social-ecological change; among the most significant is the dynamic between the sustainability of freshwater fisheries and fishing livelihoods. Fresh water fisheries are changing at an alarming rate due to many kinds of stresses (Fausch et al. 2002 Dudgeon et al. 2006). These ecological changes are having an echoing effect on subsistence fisheries in regions where communities have limited access to other livelihood options (Bene 2003; Allison and Horeman 2006; Baird 2007). LTK holders hold significant insights about many aspects of fish ecology (fish migration patterns, population dynamics and habitat use) (Baird and Begossi 2007). Because of their long-term experience and observations of fish ecology, LTK are anticipated to be able to distinguish between normal variability and change, that could indicate, “something is going wrong” (Ommer et al. 2008: 590). Gathering this kind of LTK underpins our investigation of the socio-economic, cultural and political dynamics of fishing livelihoods (Marschke and Berkes 2006). Informed by these theories, we will explore:

  • What are the patterns of variability and change in fishing livelihoods being documented and experienced in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon? What kinds of variability and change are being observed in the health, location, diversity, distribution of fish species valued for subsistence in each? What kind of social networks exist for sharing knowledge related to the condition of the fisheries? How have/are fishing practices and outcomes changing in response to these ecological shifts (e.g., changes in practices, harvest, food sharing patterns, food security)?
  • How are/can communities work together (upstream/downstream) to deal with these social- ecological changes in ways that ensure the continued sustainability fishing livelihoods?
  • How are fishing livelihoods interconnected at different scales (local, regional, global)?
  • How are fishing livelihoods sustainable in the face of emergent stresses of resource development 
and climate change?

Meaning and Well-being: Well-being is an important lens through which we can understand the meaning of changes being observed and experienced in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon. Human well-being is fundamentally dependent on ecosystem services including those inherent in river systems (MEA 2005; Cooke et al. 2007; Parkes 2010). The concept of well-being is thought to have many attributes in fishing communities considerate of place, spirituality and cultural beliefs – for some it is simply a “way of life” (Parlee et al. 2007; Kral et al. 2011; Parlee et al. 2012). In this research we use this conceptual framework to understand the normative aspects of changes being observed and experienced in river systems. Specifically:

  • What are the meanings attributed to the changes being observed and experienced?
  • How do meanings differ across temporal and spatial geographies?
  • How are individuals and communities negotiating between global and local framings of rivers as 
the foundation of a way of life and those, which warn of threats and harms?
  • What is the role of LTK holders in stewardship (caring for) the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon?


Governance: A third objective is to determine where there is fit between these scales of meaning of change and scales of decision-making (Young 2002; Lebel et al. 2005; von der Porten and de Loë 2013). Problems appear to have occurred in other resource management contexts when the scale of the resource management problems did not match the jurisdiction of institutions involved in problem solving. Evidence points to the value of decentralized but interconnected (polycentric) institutional arrangements rather than centralized governance systems (Andersson and Ostrom 2008; Aligica 2012; da Silveira 2013). Indigenous approaches to governance that reflect the values, rights and responsibilities of First Nations, Métis and Inuvialuit peoples also matter (Wiener et al. 2012; Napoleon 2013). Guided by these literature and theories on governance we will explore:

  • How are different observations, experiences of change and their meaning informing institutions of governance at different scales – local social norms about living in and use the resources of the 
Basin (rules-in-use), regional institutions and multi-jurisdictional institutional arrangements?
  • What is the fit between these rules and those at larger scales? How are these rule systems flexible in the context of variability and change in social-ecological conditions?
  • What kinds of institutional arrangements and strategies are needed to facilitate greater social- 
ecological learning among institutions of governance in the Mackenzie-Mekong-Amazon?
  • What are the tipping points of institutional change? Can basin-wide perspectives of change 
reframe the `socio-political landscape of decision-making?

The project will generate a significant body of knowledge about social- ecological change in the Mackenzie River Basin. Finding a means of securing this knowledge to ensure local ownership control, access and possession (OCAP) will be a key challenge for the research team. Creating a single-window database system through the project may not address the knowledge-access needs of such a diversity of communities and organizations. Nor are technical systems (e.g., online databases) the most ideal means of managing LTK. Unlike technical approaches to monitoring, the systematic generation of LTK is rooted in oral traditions and these oral traditions must be maintained to ensure the continuance of LTK generation. However, innovations in social media and digital communications (e.g., Isuma TV), have the potential to be transformative for many communities (Ginsburg 2002; Litton-Cohn and Croeser 2013):

  • What are best practices for protecting the intellectual property rights and oral traditions of LTK 
  • What are the kinds of indicators and processes of tracking change that are unique/common to 
communities in the Mackenzie, Mekong and Amazon?
  • What role does social media and digital technology play in the contemporary practices of 
tracking change?