Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge base acquired by indigenous and local peoples over many hundreds of years through direct contact with the environment. It includes an intimate and detailed knowledge of the plants, animals and natural phenomena and the development and use of appropriate technologies for hunting, trapping, fishing, cultivation and forestry. Elders and local residents are very concerned today about the ecological changes that they are seeing in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The following observations have been made:
- Floods, important for replenishing vegetation and wildlife habitat occur far less often (used to occur every 2-3 years) now occur rarely or not at all.
- Many perched basins (sloughs) have dried up, their waters replaced by encroaching vegetation.
- Lower water levels and dissapearing water bodies (Egg Lake, Pushup Lake) inhibit travel to traditional areas important for traditional land uses, like access to resources for food, medicines and spiritual well-being.
- People have had to select different or new areas to practice traditional use activities due to the drying, which has made access to many tradional areas no longer possible.
- Muskrats, an important traditional food as well as a source of income from trapping, were once plentiful but are now in sharp decline.
- Waterfowl are less abundant in the delta now as compared to the past.
- People used to drink directly from the delta’s waterways, but many no longer will do so.
- Fish have long been a diet staple, but today people are concerned about the safety of the fish for eating, as lesions and deformities are being observed in netted fish more frequently than in the past.
- Before permanent loging and traplines were assigned, people rotated traplines on a seasonal basis so as to not over-hunt, trap or pick. The institution of trap lines has affected the way people interacted long ago when people were more willing to share their sites and resources.
- Changes in species distribution have been observed.
- Ice formation, consistency and break-up have change – the ice is thinner and weaker and as it crumbles at break-up no longer has the scouring effect important to maintaining river banks suitable for some wildlife habitat and for docking boats – ice is darker and dirtier
- Water bodies are more weedy and algae, color has changed, smell too tastes is different, increased insects
- Thistle growth ( an invasive species) was noted in 1974.
- Sacred and burial sites have been over looked by unaware developers (Dog Camp, Peace Point, Carlson’s Landing, Rocky Point, House Lake (among others).
- Incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, children have higher incidence of colds and respiratory problems, people don’t live as long.
PADEMP’s Traditional Knowledge Working Group attributes these and other observed changes to a combination of factors:
- The W.A.C. Bennett Dam has caused a reduction in spring flood frequencies and an altered water flow regime on the Peace River. This has affected seasonal river levels and has also contributed to the drying of perched basins within the delta.
- Upstream industrial development is believed to be impacting both water quality and water quantity on the river systems, especially on the Athabasca River which flows into the delta from the south.
- Climate change (hotter and drier weather trends have been documented over the last several decades) is contributing to reduced water levels and drying of perched basins. It is also contributing to changes in species distribution within the region.
There is concern that if these changes continue unchecked, the ecological health of the delta will continue to deteriorate and the Aboriginal traditional way of life will be threatened for the future.