LANDS & ENVIRONMENT
The Lands and Environment department works under direction of the Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus and the Executive to advance its mandate — "to retain sovereignty by strengthening the Dene spiritual beliefs and cultural values in Denendeh on environment and land issues".
An understanding of the state of the environment is achieved by integrating traditional knowledge, where appropriate, with western science. We strive towards knowledge in action (research), which serves our members' interests in such areas as influencing government policy. Our aim is to bring Dene elders, technical staff and youth together in our understanding of the state of the environment in Denendeh.
The Lands and Environment Department is currently working on the following issues and programs (but not limited to):
Climate Change; and,
Dene Nation Chiefs Caribou Committee
Dene Nation Chiefs Caribou Committee (DNCCC) was established to address concerns arising from the population decline of the caribou herds in the Northwest Territories. In October 2006, motion #06/07-006 was passed at the Dene Nation’s Special Assembly in Fort Good Hope, NT requesting the implementation of a Dene Nation Caribou Management Committee (DNCCC).
The DNCCC membership includes one representative from each of the five regions:
Motion #09-010-007 was passed to address a long term Caribou Management Plan where the Dene Nation was mandated to engage the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), Government of Canada and aboriginal governments to jointly develop an action plan for the declining Bathurst Caribou Herd. In November 2010, GNWT, Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) and Dene Nation negotiated and implemented a new 2 (two) year interim Ekwo (Caribou) Committee. The committee is participating in GNWT assisted, limited hunts on the Bathurst Herd within the interim hunting ban area as well as assisted harvesting with outside herds (Bluenose & Ahiak). There are 10 YKDFN wildlife monitors & hunters assisting GNWT officials with winter road checkpoints and surrounding areas. We view projects like the Ekwo Committee as a positive, new approach toward our mandate to build strong ties with other governments & organizations.
Although in recent years there has been a growing trend in the decline of all barren ground caribou herds from the Eastern Arctic to the West, Woodland/Boreal Caribou research has been minimal as the numbers are evidently in decline at an alarming rate. Efforts are being made to address concerns of our harvesters.
Traditional knowledge (TK) is equally important to western science in our research. Dene Nation is insuring that TK be properly integrated with western science in order to work with other researchers/biologists in the north.
By sharing our efforts and values, the DNCCC hopes to inspire others to implement similar initiatives delivering greater benefit to communities while also shifting to a closer traditional relationship with the environment.
Arctic Peoples, Culture, Resilience and Caribou (ACRC)
ACRC was approved as an International Polar Year (IPY) project in 2008, to learn more about the potential effects and responses to declining caribou populations in the Canadian north. The project is being led by a network of northern Aboriginal organizations including the Arctic Athabaskan Council-AAC, Gwich’in Council International-GCI, Dene Nation, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami-ITK and the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada-ICC. The academic leads of the project are Dr. Chris Furgal (Trent University) and Dr. Brenda Parlee (University of Alberta).
Northern leaders identified the concept of “community resilience” as a priority research focus to build capacity for Arctic community health and sustainability. The hypothesis guiding the ACRC project is that resilience and adaptive capacity of Arctic communities can be understood by investigating a series of reciprocal community-land (natural resource) relationships that exist across the north. The research question is: How will Arctic Aboriginal communities continue to be resilient and healthy in relation to the social and ecological changes which threaten important human-environment relationships now and in the future?
This project addresses this question through a series of projects taking place in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut. All sub-projects investigate one or more central element of community resilience. Specifically, we explore the relationship between northern Indigenous peoples and a common valued and threatened resource - caribou. An International component focuses on exchanging lessons learned among regions dealing with the question of community resilience, health and caribou as well in one other circumpolar country.
Fred Sangris, Chairperson of the Dene Nation Chiefs Caribou Committee shows students information concerning the
declining numbers of caribou in the Bathurst Caribou Herd.
The theoretical thread or theme linking all the projects and case studies is resilience and adaptive capacity. Although resilience has multiple meanings in different disciplines we are interested in individual, household and community resilience to environment change – specifically Barren Ground Caribou population variability and change. Theoretically, we know that resilience is informed by many socio-economic, cultural and ecological factors. Among the most well understood are: human social networks, traditional knowledge and skills, and governance and institutional arrangements. By exploring these variables, as well as other emergent elements of resilience through this series of projects focused on this one common and critical resource for Arctic Communities, we hope to gain a better understanding of social-ecological health in Arctic communities now and into the future.
In 2010-11 the ACRC program focused on a few specific projects in addition to one large northern wide workshop on the topic of caribou decline and community response. Based on previous project ramp up, transitioning from one program to another for some projects that were building on previously funded initiatives and a late funding cycle for the new IPY initiatives, most of the work started in 2009-10 took place in the western Arctic but not all ACRC sub projects were active until this last fiscal year. Some community case study research was conducted in the Inuvik region on intergenerational resilience, food security, resilience and community health perspectives, as well as some digital storytelling work and archive research on caribou decline and community resilience in the North. Two Yukon communities participated in a community survey project and a community caribou hunt with community youth, elders and community members. Dene Nation completed two IPY projects throughout the year where information was collected and recorded by Dene Nation Staff, elders and harvesters. Historical data was contributed by experienced traditional wildlife managers (members of Dene Nation along with other government organizations) through storytelling and archival documents. These members included retired wildlife management officers, elders, leaders & youth who participated throughout the year in the meetings/workshops.
The projects also examined the role of caribou hunting in the lives of young adults from the communities in the NWT. Young adults are faced with many challenges managing their roles with both the wage economy and the traditional economy in ways that sustain the health of the environment, themselves, their families and communities. The mixed economy model suggests that the gains made in wage employment (income) can be used to support and sustain traditional pursuits of hunting, fishing, trapping and related on the land activities. This fluctuating (global recession challenges) mixed economy model however, presents other challenges for hunters in terms of identity and traditional livelihood. Some young adults find themselves caught in a conflict between the ideals and practices of one lifestyle and other, the result of which is stress, anxiety and related health outcomes.
The research aimed to explore the tensions - specifically the synergies and conflicts of wage employment and caribou harvesting experienced by harvesters in the North.
Climate change in the north is increasing at an alarming rate and faster than any other region of the world. The Dene are deeply concerned for the well being of future descendants’ coexistence with the land. Adaptation can be achieved by working closely with other governments and organizations to reduce impacts.
Concerns to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are:
- Thawing of permafrost and land instability;
- Advance melting of snow & ice cover in the spring;
- Earlier break-up and later freeze-up of river and lake ice;
- Declining wildlife habitats, wetlands and nesting sites, and influx of invasive species;
- Shorter winter road seasons;
- Increase in summer storms;
- Increase in forest fires;
- Degradation of sea ice and negative impacts for ice dependent species;
- Longer periods of open water and more storms reaching the shore;
- Increase in environmental contaminants and persistent organic pollutants;
- Health and cultural impacts due to a decreased ability to harvest traditional foods.
Climate change impacts are happening to a greater degree and faster than scientists anticipated. Impacts are likely to be irregular and sudden, rather than following a smooth progression from one state to another. Rapid climate change in the north means greater vulnerability to impacts. While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important, adaptation is the most effective way to cope with climate change. Adaptation plans should be regional in nature to best respond to local climate variations. Along with western science, traditional knowledge is a necessity and must be taken seriously to help Dene & fellow northerners adapt to climate change.
NORTHERN CONTAMINANTS PROGRAM
The Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) was established in 1991 in response to concerns about human exposure to elevated levels of contaminants in wildlife species that are important to the traditional diets of Northern Aboriginal peoples. Early studies indicated that there was a wide spectrum of substances – persistent organic pollutants (POPs), heavy metals, and radionuclide – many of which had no Arctic or Canadian sources, but which were, nevertheless, reaching unexpectedly high levels in the Arctic ecosystem.
The program's key objective is to work towards reducing and, where possible, eliminating contaminants in traditional and country foods, while providing information that assists individuals and communities in making informed decisions about their food use.
The Dene Nation was awarded funding under the Northern Contaminants Program National and Regional Coordination envelope. These funds were set by NCP Secretariat for our responsibilities under the human health blueprint development, monitoring blueprint development, social and cultural review of proposals; as well as for health projects, monitoring projects, and so on. Projects were identified by NCP Secretariat as relevant to Denendeh.
Funding enabled Dene Nation to participate in the national and regional coordination and management of the NCP review, consultation, and development of programs.
Our primary role in this regard was attending to the business of the Management Committee and maintaining NCP standards of responsible research in Denendeh. Dene Nation participated in both face to face meetings of various project teams as well as email and phone contact. We attended blueprint planning meetings and attended to the emails and other forms of communication relevant to NCP projects and blueprints.
For more information on lands and environment please contact the Director of Lands and Environment Secretariat: Daniel T'Seleie.