Sacred waters run deep

Inuit hunt camp in the distance on snowy bank of Thelon River.

To many, the 900 kilometre Thelon River stretching from Northwest Territories to Nunavut is considered pristine, barren, wilderness. To researcher Bryan Grimwood, the river also represents homeland.

Grimwood has been working with Aboriginal communities connected to the Thelon to cultivate enhanced understanding of, and responsible relationships to, this sacred and changing place. For the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation of the Northwest Territories and Inuit of Baker Lake, the 142,400 square kilometre watershed is Indigenous homeland. The Thelon continues to be an important cultural landscape, providing access to subsistent hunting, fishing, drinking water, travel, and social and cultural connections — from a place to visit family to a source of ecological knowledge.

“Aboriginal relationships to the Thelon are continuously adapting to transitions in settlement lifestyles, resource extraction pressures, environmental change such as climate change and caribou population decline, and barriers to participation in environmental decision-making and resource management,” explains Grimwood, a specialist in tourism, outdoor recreation, and the moral geographies of nature.

The project is developing regional capacities for Aboriginal community research in northern Canada. “The study is providing valuable documentation for community use in protecting the Thelon River as sacred traditional land, communicating knowledge and place-based relationships across generations and cultures, and rethinking sustainable cultural and nature-based tourism,” says Grimwood. “Perceptions of the Canadian north as an unpeopled wilderness or resource frontier are problematic. It is homeland where people live and depend on the land to survive and flourish.”