Health Wellbeing

Health & Wellbeing

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Habitat & Species

Changes in aquatic ecosystem health have moderate impacts on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities in the Great Slave sub-basin. The inclusion of traditional foods in local diets is viewed as essential to many Indigenous communities because of the nutritional, cultural, and spiritual values linked to these resources. Although fishing, hunting, trapping, and gathering country foods are still viewed as core cultural practices, many Indigenous communities in the sub-basin report consuming less fish than in the past due to many factors, particularly out of concern for elevated levels of mercury, arsenic and other toxins in certain waterbodies and fish populations. Access to preferred fishing sites and harvesting areas is also becoming more difficult and dangerous due to lower water levels such as in the Mackenzie River, Slave River and Slave River Delta. No scientific data was found for levels of country food consumption in the Great Slave sub-basin.

The following table summarizes the availability of information for each Health and Wellbeing indicator.

Signs and Signals

Indigenous Knowledge Information and Data

Indigenous Knowledge Availability 1

Science Information and Data

Science Data Availability2

Food sources

Decrease in country food consumption (overall or specific species); access or safety considerations

Many observations from several locations.

Statistics on number of people eating wild food versus store food

No information available.

1 Qualifiers for the availability of local and Indigenous Knowledge observations in publicly available sources: Limited = 1-2 observations; Some = 3-4 observations; Many = 5 or more observations
2 Qualifiers for the availability of science data in publicly available sources: Low = Individual studies or locations; Many = Network of monitoring stations across the basin

Food Sources

Decreased consumption of country foods and access and safety concerns in reaching harvesting areas are reported in the Great Slave sub-basin.

Changes in fish health condition and contamination of fish and water have led many Indigenous communities to consume less fish. There are significant concerns about the increase in rates of cancers and diseases linked to water and fish contamination among Indigenous communities from the Slave River Delta, including Fort Smith and Fort Resolution where cancer rates are high.[108] Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation members have been forced to halt their fishery in

Over time, there have been fewer people [in the Dehcho region] fishing or eating fish, or some of those that do fish, do so less frequently,

Parlee and Maloney, 2017
Stark Lake, due to contamination from nearby exploration for uranium mining.[109] Lutsel K’e Dene members also no longer fish in the area around Nonacho Lake as the fish are considered “ruined” by mercury contamination and members “no longer consider them good to eat”.[110] Members of the Dehcho First Nations consistently report harvesting fewer fish than in the past, attributed to concerns for mercury contamination, decreases in some fish populations and a shift away from a traditional lifestyle.[111]

A decline in muskrat abundance has been observed since the 1970s in the Slave River Delta by local Indigenous communities. In the past decade, many harvesters have observed it is increasingly difficult to find muskrats in the Delta.[112] It is therefore more challenging for local communities to include muskrat in their diet.


Muskrats depend on open water habitats with shallow water conditions. Image source: CheepShot via Flickr Creative Commons (copyright-free).

Access to traditional use areas for fishing and harvesting resources is more difficult and dangerous for many Indigenous communities in recent years. Elders from Fort Resolution report it is more difficult to set nets for fish in the Slave River Delta, and access to specific fishing and hunting areas is not possible due to lower water levels in the Delta.[113] Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation members have reported that more frequent, stronger storms make it unsafe for members to travel on the water which affects their ability to harvest traditional foods. The Deh Gah Got‘ie also note that lower water levels on the Mackenzie River have made some fishing and land use sites inaccessible.[114]

In 2011, with the declining water levels, many Elders and land users from Fort Resolution identified that it was more difficult to set nets for fish in areas in the delta. Access to specific hunting and fishing areas was also no longer possible,

Pembina Institute, 2016