Keepers of the Water Gathering

The greatest watershed in North America, the Mackenzie River Basin is increasingly at risk. Dehcho First Nations, with support from the Canadian Boreal Initiative, has called together all those living and working in the Arctic Ocean Basin to meet in Liidlii Kue, September 5-8, 2006. Dehcho Grand Chief Norwegian says, “Prime Minister Harper was in Yellowknife two weeks ago and he expressed the narrow interests of Canadian economic development, he hasn’t got a clue about the social and environmental costs of turning us into Alberta north.”

The Grand Chief says the elders (Naxehcho) recognized the need to bring people together “they asked us to get everyone together to talk about the state of our waters, especially our river the Dehcho (Mackenzie River) and what we need to do to make sure we have clean water in the future.”

The increasing rate and scale of development in Canada’s Boreal forest, in particular Tar sand development in northern Alberta and Hydro development in northern British Columbia, are being felt in Denendeh. According to conference coordinator Dr. Chris Paci, “While governments now regulate development, it will be all Canadians who pay for the cost of unsustainable development, including the cumulative affects of a degraded environment.” Fresh water and healthy aquatic systems are vulnerable to a variety of impacts, but the greatest risk now faced in the Arctic Ocean basin is that we are taking more water out of the basin then is renewed each year. Grand Chief Norwegian says “there is less water every year. The river does not fluctuate naturally how it use to, the river banks are sloping, there’s more willow growth, wet lands are drying up, and climate change is contributing to changes freezing and thawing. All these changes mean poorer quality fish and water.”

Invitations from the Dehcho to the watershed gathering have gone out to the federal government, First Nations and Metis, Industry, and others. In addition to hearing from Aboriginal and community leaders, presentations will be given by University of Calgary Law Professor Kathleen Mahoney, Northern Research Chair (NSERC) Dr. Terry Dick, Ducks Unlimited, and others. The key note speaker for the event is Margaret Trudeau. In 1971, at age 22, Margaret Trudeau became the youngest First Lady in the world. As honorary spokesperson for “Watercan” she has advocated for clean and secure water internationally. Her message is one of strength, resilience and redefining one’s goals.

For more information and for media interviews contact Sara McLeod, Dehcho First Nations 867-

695-2355 and Mann Deon, Canadian Boreal Initiative 613-230-4739 (ext 224).