The Mackenzie River is the longest river system in Canada and the second largest drainage basin in North America (after the Mississippi).  The river is known by many names to local communities (e.g., Dehcho in Slavey, Nagwichoonjik in Gwich’in and Kuukpak in Inuvialuktun) and has been key to the survival of Indigenous Peoples in the North for thousands of years. The Basin stretches across large parts of western Canada and is home to more than 300,000 people, 10% of whom are First Nations, Métis and Inuvialuit (MRBB 2003; GNWT 2010). The subsistence fishery of the Mackenzie features numerous species including broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus) and loche (Lota lota).


Quick Facts


Area: ‎1,805,200 km2 (that’s one-fifth of the entire area of Canada!)

Human Population: As of 2001, there were approximately 400,000 people living in the Mackenzie River Basin.  (10% First Nation, Metis or Inuit)

Jurisdictions: BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Nortwest Territories as well as Treaties 6, 8 and 10 and multiple First Nation Reserves and several Metis settlements

Ecology:  Forests (boreal), wetlands, sparse vegetation, foothills and some prairie. The Mackenzie River Basin has a large fish ecology as noted by the Elders in the area, notably by the Inuvialuit.


  • Primary development in the area is oil extraction and deforestation.
  • Petroleum Development
  • Commercial Fish Harvesting
  • Water quality is a major issue affecting the health of the delta. A commonly cited indicator of water quality is muddy water or “too much dirt in the water”
  • Flooding is also noted from industry and changing climate

In the Mackenzie Basin, the Tracking Changes Project spans across five provinces and Territories, funds 11 Indigenous organizaings representing over 40 Indigenous communities and supports the investigation of water quality and quantity changes, wild fish, fish migrations and impacts to fishing livelihoods across 5 major subwatersheds.


The work in the Mackenzie River Basin is primarily coordinated by Dr. Brenda Parlee from the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada ( A number of graduate students have been working throught the basin and are profiled in more detail on the subwatershed pages.


The research in the Mackenzie River Basin is focused on community-led projects which are led by local community researchers, Elders and land users.  The communities and Indigenous organizations design and carry out thier own local investigations to gather intimate Indigenous and local knowledge about water quality, fish and fish migrations and the impacts of development.  This information is disseminated through social networks that extend over space, including crossing provincial and territorial borders.  These community projects are supported by graduate students and academic researchers who provide additional knowledge and expertise when requested or required by the community leads.





Great Slave

Great Bear

Web and Print Sources:

GRRB—Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board (2001). Gwìndòo Nành’ Kak Geenjit Gwich’in Ginjik (More Gwich’in Words About the Land). Inuvik NT: Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board.


GSCI-Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute (2001). Gwadàl’ Zheii – Belongings from the Land. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History.


Heine, M. Andre, A. and Kritsch, I.. (2007). Gwichya Gwich’in Googwandak: The History and Stories of the Gwichya Gwich’in As Told By The Elders of Tsiigehtshik. (2nd ed.) Inuvik: Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. (ISBN 978-1-896337-11-1) (p. 7).

Short Description
Social Links
Brenda Parlee
Principal Investigator for Tracking Change at the University of Alberta

Principal Investigator

Arn Keeling
Arn Keeling
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Bruno Wichmann
University of Alberta
David Natcher
University of Saskatchewan
Henry Huntington
Huntington Consulting
Herman Michell
Prince Albert Grand Council
Jennifer Fresque-Baxter
Mark Nuttall
University of Alberta
Shalene Jobin
University of Alberta
Sonia Wesche
University of Ottawa
Trevor Lantz
University of Victoria
Val Napoleon
University of Victoria
Graduate Students
Short Description
Social Links
Sydney Stenekes
M.Sc. Candidate in Risk and Community Resilience at the University of Alberta
Neal Spicer
M.Sc. Graduate in Community Risk and Resilience at the University of Alberta
Chelsea Martin
M.Sc. Graduate in Risk and Community Resilience at the University of Alberta
Laura Gaitan
M.A. Candidate in Geography at the Memorial University of Newfoundland

MA Candidate in Geography at the Memorial University of Newfoundland

Tracey Proverbs
M.A. Candidate in Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria
Iria Heredia
M.A. Candidate in Geography at the University of Ottawa

University of Ottawa

Johanne Johnson

University of Alberta

Makenzie Mackay
M.Sc. Graduate in Risk and Community Resilience at the University of Alberta
Kristine Wray
Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta