Communities throughout the Sahtú have expressed concerns about the cumulative impacts of development and climate change on the quality and quantity of the waters in the region and consequent risks to human and ecosystem health. Some of these concerns are related to mining and other industrial developments in the region and beyond, including Port Radium on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake and oil and gas development in Norman Wells, long-range transport of contaminants, and downstream effects of oil sands development in Alberta. More recently, the impacts of climate change, which include increased frequency of forest fires, changes to hydrological regimes and landscape changes due to permafrost thaw, as well as the potential for development of the Canol shale oil and gas play are adding to these concerns. As a result, many have stopped drinking from local water sources, preferring to purchase drinking water imported from elsewhere, and questions about water quality and ecosystem health are common as livelihoods in the Sahtú are closely linked to their land and waters.
Researchers, partners, and community members want to better integrate current and planned research initiatives, identify research and capacity needs, and support new and innovative research to address these concerns in the Sahtú. The Water Knowledge Camps, is a step towards the goals of building stronger partnerships through enhanced dialog and understanding among researchers and communities and will help to build a comprehensive environmental monitoring programs. These camps will involve shared on-the-land experiences with researchers and community members. The design of the camps is two-patterned on the Cross-Cultural Research Camp model for co-production of knowledge established in the Sahtú region, including: interactive experiences in traditional knowledge arising from “way of life” practices on the land; consideration of knowledge and its communication at different scales and from different sources; and science-based research and monitoring questions and methods.
The Water Knowledge Camps will support strengthened frameworks for risk communication and risk management and strengthen the foundation for co-production of knowledge related to water. Project outcomes would provide crucial support for the community goals of launching Guardian programs, where community members would monitor, observe, and report on changes to their lands and water and inform policy related to this. The Sahtú Nę K’ǝ́dikǝ́ program, the regional initiative, along with smaller locally focused programs, is linked to the broader Indigenous Guardians initiative uniting Indigenous nations, lending national relevance to this proposed collaboration. By focusing on youth, the hope is to encourage and motivate them to become more involved in the monitoring of their lands and waters and to pursue opportunities in science as a way of becoming leaders in their communities and stewards of their lands.
The purpose of the Water Knowledge Camps is to:
1) Build cross-cultural understanding of water and environmental knowledge, risk perception and healthy water consumption practices;
2) Respect, support and protect traditional knowledge processes;
3) Support regional and regulatory decision-making based on evidence from science and traditional knowledge;
4) Identify opportunities for collaborative research and monitoring, communication, and cross-cultural interpretation of research results; and
5) Build local capacity in the Sahtú to collaborate in, coordinate and lead research through the co-development of a water and environmental monitoring network.