Where is territory? Rosenberg report on the Mackenzie River Basin

Last fall the Rosenberg International Water Forum met in Vancouver to discuss Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin – the Amazon of Mackenzie-Basin-Graphicthe North. There was some press coverage I linked to here and the promise of a report, which was released two days ago and can be downloaded here (pdf).

The report covers a lot of ground. Perhaps not surprisingly since the Mackenzie is an enormous basin. It is an important step towards raising some of the key issues going forward for the region and it comes out at a timely moment given the Northwest Territories recent ‘devolution’ agreement with the federal government and the role of natural resource development in it. It is also timely given that Canada is now the chair of the Arctic Security council and the report’s linkage between the the fate of the Mackenzie and the challenges of planetary environmental security.

It is also interesting in the way in which the entire report represents itself – the subtitle emphasizes the “transboundary” nature of the basin as it is shared between several Canadian provinces and territories. But this is a VERY peculiar political geography given that the basin is also under several treaty agreements with many First Nations. Some of these agreements were reached under the early treaty system and some are termed “modern” – meaning that they were reached after the 1970s under a different model. It is not that the report entirely ignores First Nations but there is no treatment of even the fact that different kinds of treaties exist in the basin. It does discuss some implications for ‘traditional knowledge’ in the ‘science’ of watershed planning and governance. But the political space – the watershed – is calculated through the territory of the state and not the shared lens of agreements and the need to keep on negotiating over how to share this political space.

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