Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr. Derek Armitage

Advisor Role



Water is recognised as a fundamental human right in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT). However, the current and potential effects of climate change coupled with resource development pressures are leading to concerns about maintaining the health and viability of freshwater in the NWT. These intersecting multiple exposures can have far-reaching impacts for NWT residents who rely on water for cultural, spiritual, economic and social purposes. Ongoing changes (e.g., to water quantity, water quality, weather, precipitation and ice dynamics, for example) will increasingly require NWT residents to adapt, seek ways to plan for the future, identify opportunities, and moderate the effects of current and potential future change related to water.

Understanding the strategies people employ around adaptation and what shapes adaptive capacity has been a critical focus of the climate change literature, ranging from individual livelihood levels to national and international analyses. Adaptation and adaptive capacity are multi-dimensional concepts, and to date, the majority of adaptation assessment research has focused on objective dimensions of adaptation and adaptive capacity, including financial and human capital. Increasingly, calls are being made to include subjective dimensions in assessments of adaptation and adaptive capacity. Subjective dimensions are abstract, difficult to quantify, non-material and often relate to human characteristics such as perceptions, beliefs and values. Work on subjective dimensions has to date focused on perceptions of risk and capacity to adapt, but has generally been less emphasised in the climate change literature.

There is a recognized need to expand understandings of subjective dimensions to include new literatures and adopt approaches that recognize the values and lived experiences of people in a place, including how values both shape and are shaped by experiences of climate-related change. Place identity, a concept rooted in human geography and environmental psychology, offers a novel avenue for exploring subjective dimensions of adaptation and adaptive capacity.

The purpose of this dissertation was to address the above gap in the climate change literature, by examining the potential relationships between place identity and adaptation and adaptive capacity, in the context of water resources. This dissertation employed a single, exploratory case study undertaken in collaboration with the community of Fort Resolution, a Dene-Métis community in the southern NWT, located on the shores of Great Slave Lake and near the Slave River and Slave River Delta. Water has been identified as a fundamental aspect of life in Fort Resolution, and contributes to identity and livelihoods. A qualitative data collection strategy was used, consisting of participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and participatory photography with community youth.

Results revealed a bilateral, mutually reinforcing relationship between place identity and adaptation and adaptive capacity, and one that is influenced by community-identified changes to water. In Fort Resolution, connections and identification to water and place are mediated through several core place-value themes, including connections to heritage and the past, health and wellbeing, and social connections, among others. Participants are experiencing changing water conditions that are felt to be impacting use of, and relationship to, water or places mediated by water. Common experiences of water change coalesced around community-identified changes in water quantity and flow, concerns about water quality, and changes in weather, precipitation and ice. While climate change was recognized in some cases as a driver of related changes, attribution of cause was largely linked with resource development upstream of the community.

These community-identified changes in water are impacting the place identity of residents, through impacts to places that support maintenance and function of place identity and related place-values. Participants described impacts to rootedness, sense of belonging, self-efficacy, security and continuity of place. In response to identified changes, a series of interrelated adaptation strategies emerged at individual livelihood and collective levels. These adaptation strategies are positively and negatively shaped both by reactions to changing continuity of places that support place identity and a desire to protect such places now and in the future.

Study findings contribute to the growing body of work on subjective dimensions of adaptation and adaptive capacity, including consideration of place identity as a subjective dimension in adaptation assessments. In Fort Resolution, core dimensions of adaptation and adaptive capacity, including perceptions of capacity, equity and social capital, are in part shaped by place identity and vice versa. As such, understanding how people relate to and identify with places, and how these relationships influence adaptation and adaptive capacity, can help to identify opportunities for building place-based solutions and collective action situations to address current and future environmental change, particularly with respect to water.

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