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MCFN pushes for Fort Chipewyan-based environmental monitoring institute

Fort Chipewyan is home to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the largest freshwater inland river delta in North America.

A federally-funded environmental monitoring institute could be in Fort Chipewyan’s future as the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) pushes for a local research hub.

In late December, Parks Canada announced $59.9 million during the next three years to fund conservation efforts in Wood Buffalo National Park. MCFN expects some funding to support the creation of the Delta Institute, an environmental research and monitoring group that leadership has been planning for more than three years.

“This place could really be an example of how Indigenous knowledge and Western science could work together,” said Melody Lepine, director of government and industry relations for MCFN. “It’s about collaboration and showing that we want to protect our delta.”

Fort Chipewyan is home to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the largest freshwater inland river delta in North America. Lepine said the delta attracts scientists and researchers from all over the world.

The Delta Institute would be based in Fort Chipewyan and have smaller field stations across the delta. This would give scientists visiting the community a home base for research trips. Youth and elders could also be brought to field stations for educational trips.

Lepine hopes this will make it easier for Fort Chipewyan residents to learn about monitoring and research projects in the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

Scientists and researchers will often come to Fort Chipewyan to study the delta, but won’t always share their findings locally, said Lepine. The Delta Institute requires scientists and researchers to collaborate with community knowledge holders in their studies. This would help preserve research for future generations.

“They collect their data and they often go back to their academic world,” said Lepine. “What was that study about? How can we use those results in protecting and managing the delta?”

Much of the research Fort Chipewyan’s leaders want to preserve include interviews with elders and knowledge holders. For MCFN, preserving Indigenous cultural knowledge is as important as studying Western science.

“We are going to make sure those worldviews are balanced,” said Lepine. “Strong preservations of knowledge can be shared to manage very complex issues such as managing ecosystem health, conservation and wildlife management.”

Since 2014, MCFN and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee have asked the federal government to help reverse the deterioration of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, which has seen water levels drop for years.

The Delta Institute has not yet been approved, but Lepine said Parks Canada is enthusiastic about the project and potential roles in conservation efforts.

“The Cree, Dene and Métis people were in that delta long before it became a World Heritage Site and long before it became a national park,” she said. “The institute would be an important instrument to reflect the sacredness of this place.”

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By Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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