Skip to content

NWT chapter co-hosts public forum on the Mackenzie River and climate change

The Council of Canadians Northwest Territories chapter, in collaboration with Ecology North and the Government of the Northwest Territories, hosted a public forum on March 23 titled, The Past, Present and Future of the Mackenzie River: A Discussion on Climate Change Impacts and Transboundary Waters.

Chapter activist Lois Little was the moderator for the evening.

The Globe and Mail has reported, “The Mackenzie River, including its two great upstream supply lines, the Peace and Athabasca rivers, travels 4,241 kilometres before it reaches the Beaufort Sea. Its watershed spans three western provinces and two territories, covering approximately 1.8 million square kilometres, the largest by far in all of Canada and triple the size of France.”

And Maclean’s magazine has noted, “The watershed is threatened by climate change — occurring faster there than almost anywhere else on Earth — as well as by upstream development such as Alberta’s oilsands or British Columbia’s hydro dams.”

Little tells us, “The keynote speaker for the evening was Bob Sandford. Panel members were Stephanie Yuill, Jennifer Fresque-Baxter, and Meaghan Beveridge with GNWT Environment and Natural Resources, and Catherine Lafferty with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. About 45 Yellowknifers attended the event.”

In March 2015, the Northwest Territories signed a transboundary water agreement with Alberta to protect the Mackenzie River basin. That agreement includes how water is monitored in the basin, the types of substances allowed in it, and how disputes will be resolved. The GNWT said at that time that this agreement was the first of five agreements it would negotiate to protect the basin.

Little adds, “Sandford and the other speakers made it clear that the NWT is on the cutting edge of water management or as he said ‘the cusp of history’, but no matter how cutting edge these agreements are, we can’t stop now.”

Given the biodiversity, Sandford has also described the Mackenzie River as “Canada’s Cold Amazon”.

Significantly, there are 68 First Nations living in the Mackenzie River watershed. Little notes, “Sandford reminded us that because Indigenous governments are signatories to the transboundary agreements, there are opportunities to truly assert Indigenous water rights and nationally to ‘move down this river to reconciliation’.”

She concludes, “It was a rich evening, full of thought-provoking presentations and a very smart exchange of questions and answers. Certainly the people gathered last night are active citizens and the evening provided an opportunity to become better informed about climate and transboundary waters.”