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Massey Medal

2011 Winner - David Livingstone

Massey Medal recipient David Livingstone at Yellowknife Bay on Great Slave Lake, N.W.T.
(Photo: Fran Hurcomb)

The thin line
David Livingstone knows full well the challenges of treading a fine line between the conflicting interests of resource development and conservation. At one point during his 16 years as director of Renewable Resources and Environment for the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in the Northwest Territories, he was responsible for mining development as well as the remediation of abandoned, contaminated mine sites. But Livingstone, who retired in 2009, believes the two endeavours are not incompatible. “Let’s have development, ’s make it responsible,” he says, “and let’s make sure it’s in the context of sound environmental stewardship.”

That principle guided Livingstone as he helped create the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency to oversee the environmental management of the Ekati Diamond Mine — Canada’s first — in the 1990s. Without such independent supervision, aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories may not have supported development. This public watchdog served as a model for two more agencies that now monitor the Diavik and De Beers’ Snap Lake diamond mining projects.

Livingstone was also the lead federal architect of the Protected Areas Strategy, a community-based plan to establish a network of protected zones across the Northwest Territories. While the process of preserving regions — some as large as Vancouver Island — is frustratingly slow, says Livingstone, there is now at least a commitment to conservation. When he first got involved in developing the strategy, which was signed in 1999, even his own department was opposed

For these and countless other pioneering initiatives in the Northwest Territories, ranging from watershed stewardship to the management of the Bathurst caribou herd, Livingstone has been awarded the 2011 Massey Medal. Inaugurated by Governor General Vincent Massey in 1959 and administered by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the award recognizes outstanding achievement in Canadian geography.

While Livingstone’s list of achievements is impressive, his partnership approach earned him the respect of northerners. Originally from Elliot Lake, Ont., and a resident of Yellowknife for nearly 25 years, he feels strongly that aboriginal communities and governments must play an integral part in deciding on industrial development and conservation efforts in their own backyard. “David’s strength was always making sure that people in the communities be directly involved, not ‘tokenly’ involved, in the decision making,” says Gary Bohnet, deputy minister of the N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a former leader of the Métis Nation. “New environmental programs had to be designed from the community level upward, not imposed on them by Ottawa or Yellowknife.”

— Monique Roy-Sole

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