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Sunsetting in the Northwest Territories on a desserted road

NWF researchers and community collaborate to address climate change at Tulı́ t'a for the Nę K'ǝ Dene Ts'ıl̨ ı ̨ (Living on the Land) Forum

Northern Water Futures (NWF) researchers Jennifer Baltzer, Dave Rudolph, Kelly Skinner, Anna Coles, Mylene Ratelle and PhD student Carolyn Gibson travelled to the community of Tulı́ t'a to participate in the Nę K'ǝ Dene Ts'ıl̨ ı ̨. This is a joint workshop aimed at connecting communities within the Sahtú region with researchers to discuss research priorities in the region and for researchers to provide updates from existing projects.

The Dene people of the Sahtú region have expressed deep concern about the impacts of climate change on their lands and waters. Over centuries, the Dene people of the Sahtú have developed skills and knowledge for living successfully and sustainably on the land. Impacts of climate change threaten these adaptations for successful living on the land. One of the major goals of the Nę K'ǝ Dene Ts'ıl̨ ı ̨ Forum is to ensure the co-development of research in the region and support the incorporation of both western and traditional knowledge into research planning, using a decolonizing approach, ensuring that researchers and community members work side by side. This approach was exemplified throughout the workshop with the sharing of both types of knowledge and a co-presentation on groundwater by NWF researcher Dave Rudolph and Leon Andrew, an elder from Tulı́t’a. NWF researchers are initiating new research activities in the Sahtú region in the coming summer and Nę K'ǝ Dene Ts'ıl̨ ı ̨ Forum provided an ideal opportunity to develop these plans with the community.

Over the three-day workshop, researchers engaged with stories about landscape change and its effects on ecosystems, livelihoods and safety. Through the Forum, researchers gained a better understanding of the region and the effects climate-warming driven landscape change as experienced by the community. The researchers heard concerns about the impacts of wildfires on vital boreal caribou (tǫdzı) habitat, the impact of warming water on fish populations and how permafrost thaw is changing how much water is on the land. There was concern about how fire impacts the frozen ground below it with stories of slumping hillslopes and riverbanks following fires. Fires are not only impacting the surface plants, but changing the land deep underneath communities. Community members have also observed decreasing lake and river water levels. Changes are happening fast in the Sahtú and community members want to have a better understanding of what their lands will look like in the future; data from this region is sparse making such predictions very difficult.

The need to work together to understand changes happening on the land was emphasized at the Forum. The meeting involved both elders and youth and discussions revolved around two main priorities for community involvement in NWF research:

  1. Working with elders to incorporate knowledge of changes on the land into sampling design;
  2. Building research capacity with youth through direct involvement in sampling, support for on-the-land training and bringing research into the classroom.

The Nę K'ǝ Dene Ts'ıl̨ ı ̨ Forum provided an excellent opportunity for dialogue between researchers and community members to ensure that research generated in the region is of shared value. The information gathered at the forum will help researchers finalize their research plans for the coming summer, involve community members in these plans, and shape new research questions moving forward. NWF researchers are looking forward to continuing to collaborate with communities in Sahtú this summer.

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