Using Traditional Knowledge to Adapt to Ecological Change: Denésoliné Monitoring of Caribou Movements


  • Brenda Parlee
  • Micheline Manseau
  • Lutsël K'é Dene First Nation



caribou, fall migration, hunting, harvesting, monitoring, traditional ecological knowledge, Dene, Denésoliné, unpredictability, diamond mining, environmental impacts


The Chipewyan Dene or Denésoliné have long been dealing with variability in the movements of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Many generations ago, Denésoliné hunters learned that by observing caribou at key water crossings during the fall migration, they could obtain critical information about caribou health, population, and movement patterns. Systematic observation of these indicators by hunters strategically organized along the tree line enabled the Denésoliné to adapt their harvesting practices, including the location of family camps, to maximize harvest success. While this system of observation was developed for traditional subsistence harvesting, its techniques could be usefully applied today to other natural resource management contexts. In particular, such monitoring might help us understand how new bifurcation points created by mineral resource development may be affecting the Bathurst caribou herd. As governments, communities, and academics search for ways to include traditional knowledge in decision making for resource management, this paper recognizes that the Denésoliné and other indigenous peoples have their own systems of watching, listening, learning, understanding, and adapting to ecological change.