Environment and People

Canada’s wildest big river

Dene people call it Dehcho, the Big River. The Mackenzie River, is Canada’s wildest big river flowing through 1800 kilometres of globally important forests and tundra teeming with caribou, moose, geese, wolves, and bears.

Indigenous People have conserved and stewarded the lands, waters and wildlife of the Mackenzie Valley from time immemorial.

The Mackenzie Valley is now threatened by Canada’s biggest natural gas pipeline project ever. If it proceeds, the Mackenzie Gas Project will trigger the transformation of the Mackenzie Valley from largely intact wilderness to industrial landscape.

Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit people

Dene are First Nations people living in Northwest Territories communities ranging from Colville Lake and Inuvik in the north to Fort Liard and Fort Smith in the south. The Sahtu and Gwich’in First Nations have signed comprehensive land claims agreements with the federal government, while the Dehcho, Dogrib and Akaitcho First Nations are negotiating agreements with the federal government. There are also Dene communities in northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan. Inuvialuit are Inuit who live in the Arctic area of the Northwest Territories in communities such as Tuktoyaktuk, Sach’s Harbour and Inuvik. The Inuvialuit signed a comprehensive land claim agreement with the federal government in 1978.

Métis is the term used broadly to describe people with mixed First Nations and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, distinct from Dene people, Inuit, or non-Indigenous People. Métis live in communities throughout the Northwest Territories as well as northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan.

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The Dehcho First Nations filed two separate court actions in September 2004 contesting the legality of the joint panel review examining the environmental effects of the Mackenzie Gas Project. The Dehcho are arguing that their constitutional and Charter rights to participate as a partner in the joint panel review have been violated and are seeking an injunction stopping the panel from holding any hearings until the court application has been heard. Roughly fourty per cent of the length of the Mackenzie Gas pipeline runs through Dehcho traditional territory.

The Dene Tha’ First Nation (DTFN) also launched a law suit against the federal government in early 2005. The MGP runs through Dene Tha’s traditional territory, which extends through northern Alberta, northeastern BC and the southern NWT.  DTFN wants the court to order the federal government to take responsibility for the whole project including the Alberta portion; and order the Joint Review Panel to put a hold on hearings until DTFN is properly consulted and involved in the environmental assessment process.

The DTFN are concerned about the cumulative impacts of the MGP given that oil and gas development has already severely impacted the Hay – Zama – Rainbow area–one of the most active oil and gas fields in Alberta. The Dene Tha’ can no longer hunt, fish, trap or enjoy being on the land as they once did. Dene Tha’ hunters and trappers report that moose are becoming harder to find and Caribou populations are dropping.