Parkland Institute Research: Reports
published December 09, 2010
As Long as the Rivers Flow:
Athabasca River Knowledge, Use and Change
(This is an excerpt from the executive summary, for the full summary, download the pdf)
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,
• 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.