Health Wellbeing

Health & Wellbeing

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Habitat & Species

Changes in aquatic ecosystem health in the Peel 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 traditional harvesters report consuming less fish than in the past in response to declines in fish stocks and concerns about potential contamination to water and fish from upstream sources. Similarly, other harvesters report a reduction in access to preferred fishing areas given the increased frequency of riverbank erosion, lower water levels and more sandbars forming in rivers. Gwich’in and Inuvialuit trappers have reported the disappearance of muskrat populations from the upper Mackenzie River Delta in the past 5 to 10 years, and as a result fewer people consume muskrat as part of their diet. The reduced quality and availability of country foods in the Peel sub-basin is viewed as having a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of indigenous communities as it limits opportunities to practice a traditional way of life and threatens the continuity of local cultures. 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

No data found.

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 Peel sub-basin

Changes in fish health condition and declining fish stocks have led the Gwich’in and Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation to decrease their consumption of fish. Concerns for contamination from upstream sources have led some Gwich’in land users to question the safety of consuming fish harvested in the lower Peel watershed.[65] In recent years, the community of Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation was unable to harvest enough salmon to meet its needs as some salmon stocks are thought to be in decline.[66]

Fall chum salmon drying on racks. Image source: Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr Creative Commons (copyright-free).

Gwich’in and Inuvialuit trappers have reported the disappearance of muskrat populations from the upper Mackenzie River Delta in the past 5 to 10 years, and as a result fewer people are trapping and consuming muskrat as a country food. The high costs of fuel for snowmobiles and equipment and participation in the wage economy are key drivers behind the declines in muskrat trapping efforts, as are changes in habitat quality and hydrologic patterns and competition with wildlife.[67]  These high costs are also limiting the Gwich‘in and Inuvialuit from trapping for muskrats.[71]

[I]nterviewees and several participants at public meetings described how low muskrat populations are a key factor that prevents them from trapping,

Turner et al., 2018

In one study with four Gwich’in communities, most participants reported experiencing reduced or altered access to fishing areas due to factors such as shallower water conditions that make it difficult and dangerous to travel or set nets, and the rising costs of fuel and supplies for trips on the land.[68] Erosion of riverbanks, lower water levels and an increased presence of sand bars in rivers makes travel by boat more dangerous.[69] Similarly, members of Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation report that lower water levels have limited access to some preferred fishing locations.[70]

Most interview participants described changes in their fishing practices through time, with 28 of 29 describing decreased access, and 23 describing altered access,

Proverbs et al., 2020