The Legacy of David Schindler

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Dr. David W. Schindler, image courtesy of The Alberta Order of Excellence.
On March 4, 2021, ecologist David Schindler, whose life and research on freshwater had a tremendous impact in the North, Canada and around the globe, passed away at the age of 80.

His research led not only to prestigious  national and international accolades, but meaningful change to human behaviour and government policies.

His work changed the daily lives of Canadians. His research on phosphates, acid rain, climate change, UV radiation, oil sands and transboundary pollutants instigated important policy changes around the world. As an article about his life in the Tyee states, “Whenever anyone added a phosphate-free detergent to a washing machine, they were honouring the work of Schindler’s team at the Experimental Lakes Area, one of Canada’s greatest science experiments.”

Dr. Schindler had an enormous influence on water science and policy in the NWT.

He wrote that “the water resources of the Northwest Territories make it one of the most important places in the world.” His influence in the territory is undeniable: as a science advisor on the Northern River Basins Study, an expert witness during the review of the first diamond mine in the NWT, and as a member of two Rosenberg International Forum panels that provided water policy advice to the Government of the Northwest Territories. He supported the development of the Northern Voices, Northern Waters: the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy and advised on development of Bilateral Water Management Agreements with other Mackenzie River Basin jurisdictions.

Dr. Schindler spent time in the North as a scientist and a dog musher and based on his experiences wrote that “many Indigenous people of the north talk about water as the beating heart of their lands, and encouraged all of us to think about water that way, and to work together to ensure that the heart beats for generations to come”. He was a strong advocate for the inclusion of local and traditional knowledge in monitoring, research and decision making long before it became common practice. “Dave was doing knowledge co-production before there was the terminology for it,” says Dr. Erin Kelly, Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Dr. Schindler’s focus on both the fundamental relationship that Indigenous peoples have with their environment and the importance of traditional knowledge shaped the research and life’s work of many of his students and colleagues, including her own.

Dr. Schindler’s legacy and research on freshwater in the NWT will carry on in our work at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through research, monitoring, policy development and co-management of NWT’s waters with the Indigenous governments and organizations of the NWT and other water partners . We will work together to realize the vision of the Water Stewardship Strategy - that the waters of the NWT remain clean, abundant and productive for all time.