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From the 60th parallel to the Arctic, the Dene people are concerned about the protection of our land and water resources. Water is the lifeblood of our lands, and accessing it is a basic human right.

When it comes to the protection of land and water, geographical borders are invisible — the impact felt by pollution and environmental degradation does not stop at the Alberta/Northwest Territories border.

Norman Yakeleya is National Chief of the Dene Nation.

Alberta has arbitrarily made the decision to suspend environmental reporting requirements for the oil and gas industry under their emergency powers enacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic because it is too risky. At the same time Alberta has proceeded full steam ahead with oil and gas development and production as an essential service. This is a clear contradiction that shows no regard to the protection of our water resources. This decision potentially destabilizes our futures, and the futures of the next seven generations.

In 2015, the Alberta-NWT Mackenzie River Basin Bilateral Water Management Agreement was signed. The intent of this transboundary agreement is to protect the aquatic ecosystem health of the Mackenzie River Basin. The agreement is intended to act as a shield, to protect our people and our territory from negative upstream impacts from industries like oil and gas. This political agreement is only as strong as the political leaders who support it.

This issue is the first big test of that agreement and I am calling on the political leaders of the basin, Indigenous and non-Indigenous to step up and make this agreement work as our shield. This is a time for all northern governments to find their political strength and stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to protect the health of the Mackenzie Basin.

This is one of the reasons why the Dene Nation is hosting a Northern Leaders Water Summit in the North this fall. This is the most critical and compelling reason of all why NWT northern leaders need to gather around a territorial table on this most fundamental issue of common concern. When it comes to protection of water the status quo is not working. No one government can deal with this issue on their own.

In order to politically strengthen the agreement, our shield, the GNWT should also give the agreement the force of law in the NWT by making it into a law.

In the NWT it is collaboration, co-governance and the creation of a territorial leaders table for issues of common concern, that will allow us to better protect our inherent rights, the land, the water and the people. Only by uniting and working together as NWT governments can we effectively use the agreement, our shield, to defend against the impacts of Alberta’s unilateral actions.

Today, the Dene Nation is calling upon the federal government to invoke the environmental standards they have campaigned on and to turn their words into action. We also call on the Government of the Northwest Territories to take their agreements seriously, and hold their signatory partner to account. This is an issue that cannot wait. With each passing day we risk greater irreversible loss. Now is the time for leaders to come together, to catalyze action, and to begin change. Alberta isn’t waiting to act, and neither should we.

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