Keynote speaker David Suzuki addressed a crowd of scientists, community leaders, and locals in Deline, N.W.T. yesterday, kicking off a week-long conference aimed at addressing the management of water.

The Tudze, or Water Heart, conference, is named after a Dene legend about a living, breathing heart at the bottom of Great Bear Lake, which the community of Deline is situated on.

Suzuki spoke to the crowd about his experiences discussing environmental management with industry, and said that he was "blown away" by the community's connection to their natural environment.

"Even though Deline is a long way from populated areas, the pressure is going to be on," he said. "They've got enormous water resources, pristine landscape, as well as mineral resources that are going to be in the ground. And the world is going to be coming here demanding to have access to that.

"[The community is] really concerned, recognizing that water is life. That water is the key to their culture, to who they are, and to do everything they can to prepare for the coming pressure, and preserve what matters most to them."

Kenny,  Gaudet, Suzuki,

Deline Chief Leonard Kenny, left; Danny Gaudet, the community's chief negotiator; and keynote speaker David Suzuki pose for a photo during a break in the proceedings. (Leitha Kochon/CBC)

Suzuki also had some choice words about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, calling it the "dumbest way to get energy."

"There is always the idea that it wont get into the ground water," he said. "It will be capped by limestone or whatever it is. I don't believe for a minute that anyone can say that that water is not ultimately going to mix with other levels. This is just a crazy way to get energy.

'Our highest priority'

One of Suzuki's key messages to conference attendees was his difficulties in discussing the right to clean water and air with representatives from industry, saying that society has "it all backwards.

"If you don't have air for 3 minutes, you're dead. Kind of makes you think maybe air is important for us," he said. "So could we not all agree, whatever sector of society we're in, could we not all agree that clean air has got to be our highest priority, and whatever we do, we mustn't interfere with our clean air?

"And then I say every one of us is 60 per cent water by weight. If you don't have water for 4 to 6 days, you're dead. So surely we have to put water up there with clean air as our highest priority?

"But the way we're doing it now... we say if we pollute the water, if we pollute the air, it's the price of doing business. I don't agree that it should be the price of doing business."

Miles Richardson, a former president of the Haida Nation, also spoke to conference attendees, pushing for the Deline government to pressure the territorial government to sign onto a Suzuki-led initiative called Blue Dot. The campaign calls for a  constitutional amendment that would make clear air, soil, and water a human right.

No members of the N.W.T. legislature were scheduled to take part in the conference, which wraps up Thursday with a list of resolutions, followed by a drum dance.

"We have to wage war as a human species against ignorance," said Richardson. "Especially against the assumption that the economy comes before life, air, water, and soil. That is the height of ignorance, and we still subscribe to that...We can't just make speeches forever.

"My god. We have to do something."