Literature Review Local and Traditional Knowledge In the Hay River Watershed

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  • The Hay River Basin has played a vital role in the social, economic, and cultural well-being of many Aboriginal peoples. Given their reliance on and stewardship of its resources, many Aboriginal peoples have developed valuable knowledge about the state of the basin that can contribute to our understanding of historic and contemporary issues of planning, management, and monitoring.

    The Hay River Basin is a part of the Mackenzie River system, which drains into the Arctic Ocean, drawing water from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. “Kátło’dehé is the South Slavey Dene name for the Hay River, or an earlier spelling Xatlo Dehe” or from the K’átł’odeeche First Nation report, K’átł’odee ‘willow grass river,’ referring to the origins of the river in Hay Lakes, northern Alberta, which is a prairie-like area. In Chipewyan, the Hay River is Hátł’oresche. In Cree, it is Maskosï-Sïpiy” (AANDC 2014). The Hay River is named for the abundant hay fields, which were nourished by the floods periodically experienced at the river mouth, which also brings driftwood into the Great Slave Lake (Piper 2009:261).

    The Hay River Basin is considered to have been home to at least six Aboriginal groups: the Sekani, Dane-zaa, Dene Tha’, Dene, Métis, and the Woodland Cree. Each has their own cultural belief systems as well as systems of knowledge and practice that has led to the development of local and traditional knowledge about the Hay River Basin. However, a very limited base of this knowledge has been documented. Specifically, there were no sources of documented local and traditional knowledge related to observations about changes in water quality, quantity, and flow. Only a limited understanding emerges from early anthropological sources as well as land use and occupancy studies about the history and cultural significance of sites in the watershed (e.g., limited place names studies). Some observations have been made about water as it related to the impacts of resource development and climate change. There is also a very limited amount of documented local and traditional knowledge related to local observations about changes in fish species diversity, condition, population dynamics and distribution as well as other resources harvested for subsistence and commercial use such as ducks/geese, beaver, etc. There is, however, a valuable body of work related to fishing practices and use of the Hay River as a
    travel corridor, which stems from research with K’átł’odeeche First Nation.

    The limited availability of documented sources of local and traditional knowledge from this region, when compared to other regions (e.g., Gwich’in
    Settlement Area) should not be interpreted as a lack of knowledge, but rather a reflection of limited resources and institutional insecurity (e.g., no settled land claim, no co-management arrangement) that characterize this area of the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International