The Peace-Athabasca Delta is a traditional homeland for the Cree, Chipewyan, and Métis peoples of the region. People use the land for lifestyle, practical and traditional healing purposes and land-use remains a key mechanism for passing on the principals of family and community, their traditional value systems and very culture.
Water – In the Peace-Athabasca Delta water has always played a critical role in transportation and in renewal of the characteristics of the land that are required to sustain the resources linked to a traditional lifestyle here. In the early days, the rivers and their tributaries formed major transportation routes for the people who lived, permanently or temporarily in the delta – permanent and temporary settlements were established close to running streams or suitable lakes. Many places important to local Aboriginal culture and lifestyle exist and require access by water to reach – including campsites, graves, ceremonial locations, spiritual and historical sites, plus hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering areas. Many local families maintain cabins in the delta. The cabins are of cultural importance as they allow families to maintain their close ties to the land for spiritual and cultural purposes. Family gatherings facilitate the sharing of cultural traditions between generations.
Wildlife – The lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and meadows of the delta provide habitat for 20 species of fish, including whitefish, walleye, pike, and goldeye; 42 species of mammal, including beaver, lynx, marten, mink, moose, muskrat, wolf and wood buffalo; and 215 species of bird, including many species of waterfowl. Wildlife is a resource that the people depended on in the past and continue to utilize today for food, clothing, and shelter material.
Hunting, trapping and fishing – Fort Chipewyan was built on the fur trade. Some of the skills important to retaining a traditional lifestyle in this area include the abilities to: track animals, read signs of wildlife behaviour, preserve food, tan hides, make clothes, build fire, and recognize suitable camp sites. In addition to beavers and muskrats, other animals commonly trapped included mink, marten, lynx, fox, weasel, wolf, otter, fisher, and wolverine. Although no longer a suitable source of income for local people, trapping still provides extra income for many families and remains an important cultural activity. Access to and preservation of the resources of the delta are vital to maintaining these skills and culture.
Muskrat are important as a local diet staple. Once abundant, they provided a major source of income from trapping. Today, local muskrat populations are in sharp decline, largely attributed to the loss of habitat due to the drying of perched basins.
Moose are important as a food source, and moose hunting is an important part of the local culture. Moose hides are still tanned locally in the traditional way, creating a soft, pliant leather. Artisans use the leather to create traditional mitts, slippers, mukluks, jackets, and handicrafts, often decorating them with beautiful beadwork. Other parts of the moose are used as well. The hair is collected for decorative moose hair tuftings, and the legbones are used to make tools for fleshing the moose hide during the tanning process.
Waterfowl – Located at the crossroads of four major North American flyways, the delta is a rich haven for waterfowl, especially during spring and fall migration.Waterfowl, hunted during migration, are highly-valued as a local food source. Traditionally, waterfowl would be salted and preserved for the winter months. Their feathers and down would be used for pillows and quilts.
Fish are an important diet staple of local people. The most commonly consumed species include walleye (pickerel), goldeye, whitefish, and jackfish (northern pike). Dryfish are a traditional delicacy today – long ago the technique was used to prevent fish from spoiling. Fish have also been an important food source for dogteams.
Vegetation – Berries and other edible plants including: blueberries, low-bush cranberries, wild raspberries, high-bush cranberries, birch, Saskatoon berries, wild strawberries, goose berries, mint, choke cherries, Labrador tea, black currents, and wild rose have long been gathered by local people for food or medicine. Trees including: black spruce, jack pine, tamarack, aspen, poplar, white spruce and willow are used for practical purposes. Examples include the use of spruce boughs for flooring in tents, the cutting of trees for poles (used for a variety of structures – from teepees, to lean-to shelters, to stages for smoking fish or drying meat), and the use of willow sticks to roast fish over a fire. Birch is also suitable for making snowshoes and baskets.