The Study confirms that, for members of both ACFN and MCFN, the Athabasca River continues to be central to their lives, their ability to access their territories, and their conception of themselves as aboriginal peoples, despite historical change. Use of the river by the participants is still strong and diverse, and while use has generally declined, it has declined in some areas more than others. Use for drinking water, trapping and teaching have declined more than use for hunting, transportation, and cultural/spiritual and wellness practices.
The Study suggests that reduced quantity and quality of water in the Athabasca is having adverse effects on the ability of ACFN and MCFN members to access territories, and to practice their aboriginal and Treaty rights, including hunting, trapping, fishing and related activities. Adverse effects are particularly evident where the preferred manner, or location, of exercising rights involves access to territories by boat, or where the right relies upon confidence in the quality, or safety, of foods or other resources procured on traditional lands influenced by industrial use.
Map A combines Maps 3 (Reported Instances of Lost Use due to Water Level) and 4 (Reported Instances of Lost Use due to Water Quality) from the full report, to show where specific instances of avoidance related to low water levels, or poor environmental quality, have occurred. River-based transportation and health related to environmental contaminants are both important areas of federal jurisdiction.
Map B (Map 5 in the full report) shows, in blue, areas of the Athabasca River where First Nation members report being able to travel at normal high water levels, but that become impassible at extreme low water levels. Areas in red are tributaries to the Athabasca River that are reported to be navigable at normal summer high water for at least a portion of their length, but become too shallow to navigate at extreme low water. Access to large portions of key First Nation territories, including Indian Reserves, is lost at extreme low water levels. River-based transportation and health related to environmental contaminants are both
important areas of federal jurisdiction.
To improve management of the Athabasca River, the Study recommends that the Crown, working jointly and collaboratively with the ACFN and MCFN:
• Determine Aboriginal Baseline Flow (ABF) and Aboriginal Extreme Flow (AXF) thresholds to guide management of oil sands related water withdrawals from the Athabasca River – an initial ABF of approximately 1600 m3/s, and AXF of 400 m3/s, subject to monitoring and refinement, is recommended;
• Create an Athabasca River Consultation and Accommodation Framework to provide reliable mechanisms for addressing and accommodating for water withdrawals below the ABF, with decisions that may result in exceedance of the AXF requiring permission of the Crown and authorized representatives of the ACFN and MCFN;
• Establish a goal for how frequently the river and delta should be allowed to achieve spring flood levels, recognizing that ice dams are often critical components of this flooding; and
• Undertake additional work and action to further understand and address effects that contamination, and the fear of contamination, are having on ACFN and MCFN use of traditional lands.