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As Long as the Rivers Flow

Athabasca River Knowledge, Use and Change

Executive summary

As Long as the Rivers Flow

This report is based on limited research conducted for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) as part of the Athabasca River Use and Traditional Ecological Knowledge Study (the Study). The report focuses on community knowledge of the Athabasca River, how it has changed over past decades, and how ACFN and MCFN use of the river and its many tributaries has changed as a result. Key issues raised by participants in the Study include issues of lower water levels and reduced water quality.

The ACFN and MCFN worked together to commission the Study, each community followed the same methods, and the original ACFN and MCFN community reports were written as separate stand-alone documents. While unintentional, this process provided an excellent opportunity to compare the experiences of these two Fort Chipewyan First Nations. Following completion of analysis and the initial community reports, both First Nations felt that the similarities in their member’s experiences lent strength to the Study overall, and emphasized a mutual concern to protect the rights of both ACFN and MCFN members on the Athabasca River. The First Nations decided to jointly make the Study more widely available, and to present the ACFN and MCFN data alongside each other and within the same document. This report is the result of that cooperation. This report is based on the understandings of the authors, and is not intended to be a full or complete depiction of the dynamic and living system of use and knowledge maintained by ACFN elders and members.

Part A provides context and background for the Study, and the key questions that inform it. It includes a brief discussion of Treaty No. 8, and the importance of boat transportation for ACFN and MCFN members, as well as a summary of methods. Part B and C provide the results of the ACFN and MCFN studies, including a description of maps, perceptions of ecological change on the Athabasca River, discussion of the challenges low water levels in the Athabasca River present for navigation and access to large portions of ACFN and MCFN territory, and lost use along the Athabasca river because of concerns regarding contamination related to oil sands operations.

Part D provides an analysis of results and proposes two thresholds (an aboriginal base flow, and an aboriginal extreme flow)1 for use in understanding the effects of water levels and the ability of ACFN members to access their territories, and recommends steps for implementing and refining management. The report concludes with recommendations for implementation of these thresholds.

ISBN: 978-1-894949-30-9

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