Photo by Garth Lenz.

Short description of the Mikisew Cree First Nation community 

Nestled on the northwest shore of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan is one of the most northern communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Isolated by nature, Fort Chipewyan can only be accessed by plane or boat in the summer and by a winter road in the winter.

Established as a trading post in 1788 by the Northwest Trading Company, Fort Chipewyan is the oldest settlement in all of Alberta. It was named after the Chipewyan people first living in the area. More than 230 years later, trapping and fishing are still activities enjoyed by residents of Fort Chipewyan.
According to the 2018 census, there are 981 residents living in Fort Chipewyan, making it the second largest community in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Many of the residents of Fort Chipewyan are Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Fort Chipewyan Métis.

Languages spoken by the community

Cree, Dene, English

Location of community

Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada

Can you explain how your community relates to the environment?

The community is located downstream of tarsands/mining extraction sites and hydroelectric dams. The largest boreal freshwater delta that the community relies on is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In close proximity to the community lands is Canada's largest national park with abundant wood bison, wolves and whooping cranes/migratory birds. The community relies on the natural environment to exercise Indigenous Rights (treaty and aboriginal rights). Cultural practices depend on the health of the environment, the quality and quantity of traditional resources.

Can you explain how your community relates to water?

Through navigation of rivers and lakes across the watershed to access hunting and gathering areas, cabins and sacred sites. Our community says that “Water is Boss” and rely on a healthy delta to bring healthy water for birds, wildlife, for drinking and personal use.

Tell us about yourself and your relation to water.

Water is very sacred to me. So, protecting water for my community is not only my work/job but a duty for me as I have high values in conservation and water protection.

Tell us about your role within your community and if it is related to water, how so? 

I lead an organization that acts as a liaison between resource developers, operators, government agencies and the community to ensure that our natural resources more especially water are not negatively impacted by developments. I also manage studies and monitoring programs to determine the changes to the water.

Is there an important water body on your land? If so, can you name and describe it? 

The McKenzie Basin includes the Peace and Athabasca watersheds. The Athabasca River flows from glaciers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains to Lake Athabasca where my community is situated. The Peace Athabasca Delta is formed by both water from the Athabasca River and the Peace River. The Peace River flows from the next province and is controlled by hydroelectric dams.

In your or your communities view, what is the most important aspect humanity should act upon with regards to water?

Protecting the Peace Athabasca Delta (PAD) which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the largest freshwater delta's in the world. The PAD is vital of health of our community, it provides us with drinking water, access to places that are important to us and allows us to keep our culture and language.

How do you ensure access to safe drinking water in the community, today?

We rely on water treatment facilities.

Do you have canalisation, and sanitary facilities in area inhabited by your community? Are community members using them and how satisfied are you with those?

Yes we do have and use those facilities as a community and we are satisfied. Drinking water in the community seems reasonably alright however drinking water within our traditional territory is questionable.

Can you explain how your community relates to space?

I'm not sure how to answer this question. I think we see ourselves as a very small but connected part of our solar system.

Can you explain how your community relates to technology?

We embrace technology, for example we just recently installed fiber-optic cables for accessing the internet.

How does your community pass on knowledge related to the environment (e.g., via narratives, songs, paintings and murals, cloth prints, sculptures, other forms of art, etc.)?

We have some artists in our community that draw and paint about our relationship with the land and water. We also pass on knowledge through cultural gatherings, fish camps, story telling and community joint harvesting programs and school on the land programs.

Which changes in the environment have you or elders in your community observed?

Drying of our delta, water quality deteriorating, health of the fish and animals declining (sores and tumours), health of the people (high cancer rates).

What are the water-related changes you have observed on the land your community lives on? If you have observed changes detrimental to the environment, what is the community currently doing to counteract these changes?

Declining water levels, climate change (warmer winters and forest fires and flooding), industry water uses are increasing, proposals for more hydro-electic dams, less berries, medicinal plants and migratory birds.

We face issues with: 

  • Flooding
  • Water scarcity
  • Water quality in rivers
  • Water quality in lakes
  • Reduction of biodiversity in water bodies
  • Soil moisture
  • Access to drinking water
  • Glacier retreat
  • Lowering of groundwater
  • Quality of groundwater
  • Cultural loss

Have you encountered cases where space technology applications were used for water/environmental monitoring, management etc? (Please provide examples if any: in general, or within your community, in order to understand need for educational workshop, awareness etc)

I'm not aware of any.

If there is something you would like to know about space technology and Earth observation, what would it be?

Yes, I would like to know how can space technology and earth observation help us preserve our delta.

What is your favourite aggregate state of water and why is that so?

Ice because we need ice roads to access our community and traditional lands in the winter months.