Health Wellbeing

Health & Wellbeing

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Habitat & Species

Changes in aquatic ecosystem health in the Mackenzie Great Bear sub-basin are having moderate impacts on the health and wellbeing of local Indigenous communities. Health and wellbeing are closely linked to access to traditional foods. Some Indigenous communities report consuming less fish than in the past in response to changes in fish populations and concerns about unsafe levels of mercury.  Similarly, other communities report a reduction in access to preferred traditional resources and fishing areas given the increased frequency of landslides, permafrost slumps, and lower water levels. Limitations on access and consumption of traditional foods impacts the health and wellbeing of many communities through changes in diets, food security, and reduced opportunities to engage in fishing practices and a traditional way of life. A low availability of scientific data for levels of country food consumption was found.

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 in Public Sources1

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

Low data availability, inconsistent monitoring.

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

Decreases in the consumption of country foods and access and safety concerns in reaching harvesting areas have been reported in the Mackenzie Great Bear sub-basin.

The Gwich’in have observed declines in Rat River Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma) stocks, leading communities to harvest and consume less of this species. Among the Dehcho First Nations, some people report eating less fish or fishing less frequently due to declines in some fish stocks and concerns about the increasing mercury concentrations in the food chain, particularly in predatory fish. Similar sentiments are shared by the Sahtu communities, as some people are reluctant to consume fish because they are thought to have unsafe levels of mercury and minerals. Elevated mercury concentrations in some fish species in specific lakes within the Mackenzie great Bear sub-basin have resulted in consumption advisories that suggest people limit their consumption of walleye (Sander vitreus), northern pike (Esox lucius), and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

Participants consistently reported that people in the Dehcho are now harvesting fewer fish overall than in the past.

Parlee and Maloney 2017

Among the Inuvialuit, the ability to maintain fishing livelihoods depends on how much time people are able to spend fishing outside of their positions in the wage economy. Changes such as a shift towards a settlement-based lifestyle and an increase in access to modern fishing technologies and new modes of transportation like snowmobiles and motorized boats have also altered Inuvialuit fishing practices. The Gwich’in have reported using larger net mesh to reduce catching smaller fish and improve char management efforts. In the Dehcho and Sahtu regions, some Indigenous communities have raised concerns about the presence of mercury and other contaminants, leading some people to consume less fish and traditional foods than in the past.

An increased presence of gravel bars, sand bars, and shallow water conditions have been observed by Indigenous communities in the Dehcho and Mackenzie River Delta regions of the Northwest Territories.  These changes make it difficult or impossible for people to travel on the river to access some fishing locations. Additionally, more frequent natural phenomena such as landslides, permafrost slumps, and bank erosions into rivers have been observed by the Inuvialuit, which further impact their ability to access fishing sites.

Large active permafrost thaw slump in the uplands east of the Mackenzie Delta, with exposed ground ice. Photo Credit: Joshua Thienpoint.