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Water hearts and cultural landscapes: practical understanding and natural resource management in the Northwest Territories, Canada

Caine, Kenneth James





The Canadian North finds itself in a period of Canadian history with unprecedented levels of social and environmental complexity, political uncertainty and economic change. Within the Mackenzie River valley of the Northwest Territories, major industrial resource development projects are underway. At the same time, innovative natural resource management (NRM) governance institutions are being proposed. This dissertation explores how socio-cultural and political practices enable people to become institutional bricoleurs in resource management. From Delyie, Northwest Territories, I examined how outside resource managers from federal and territorial governments, environmental non-government organizations, and aboriginal community leaders perceive, negotiate and practically apply one another's diverse understandings of NRM. This research is based on my active working group participation in two locally-driven collaborative projects: the Great Bear Lake Watershed Management Plan (GBLMP) and the long-term protection of an aboriginal cultural landscape for Sahoyue-?ehdacho (Grizzly Bear Mountain - Scented Grass Hills National Historic Site). Within these cases of emergent community-based comanagement, an ethnographic approach was pivotal in exploring new approaches to NRM arising from the dynamic relations between local and outside institutional actors. Recognition and incorporation of the notions of difference and practice establishes a space for potential positive social change. I suggest that the term 'practical understanding' encapsulates how communities and outside agencies together perceive NRM. In the process of developing the GBL watershed management plan, creating a relational space resulted in shared understanding of resource management through narratives such as the story of the Water Heart. For shared understanding to be applied in the development of new formal institutions, however, it must be reconsidered as practical understanding and part of strategy in social practice. The political process of protection for Sahoyue-?ehdacho demonstrated that strategies as engagement and practical disengagement are integral to practical understanding. The significance of this perspective of NRM is that it offers a cultural framework with which to explore institutional hybridity. Such a framework requires an examination of the ways in which we perceive, conceive and actively apply culture and power relations in resource management planning that is predominated by the increasingly globalized nature of natural resources.

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