Health Wellbeing

Health & Wellbeing

Prev Indicator
Habitat & Species

Changes in aquatic ecosystem health in the Peace sub-basin are having moderate impacts on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities. Maintaining access to preferred traditional foods is viewed as essential to many Indigenous communities because of the nutritional, cultural, and spiritual values linked to these resources and the associated benefits they offer for health and wellbeing. Although fishing, hunting and trapping for country foods are still valued as core cultural practices, many Indigenous communities in the Peace sub-basin report consuming less fish than in the past due to contamination concerns and elevated mercury levels in some fish populations. Access to fishing and trapping areas is also disrupted by lower water levels. A team of scientists, elders and trappers has documented a significant decline in muskrat populations from the Peace-Athabasca Delta in recent decades, and as a result, fewer Indigenous communities consume muskrat as part of their diet. Low availability of scientific data was found for levels of country food consumption in the Peace sub-basin.

The following table summarizes the availability of information for each Health and Wellbeing indicator.

Signs and Signals

Indigenous Knowledge Information and Data

Indigenous Knowledge Availability in Public Sources1

Science Information and Data

Science Data Availability2

Food sources

Decrease in country food consumption (overall or specific species); access or safety considerations

Many observations from several locations.

Statistics on number of people eating wild food versus store food

Low data availability, inconsistent monitoring.

1 Qualifiers for the availability of local and Indigenous Knowledge observations in publicly available sources: Limited = 1-2 observations; Some = 3-4 observations; Many = 5 or more observations
2 Qualifiers for the availability of science data in publicly available sources: Low = Individual studies or locations; Many = Network of monitoring stations across the basin

Food Sources

Decreases in the consumption of country foods and access and safety concerns in reaching harvesting areas have been reported in the Peace sub-basin.

Changes in fish health condition and contamination have led many communities in the lower and upper Peace to reduce their consumption of fish. Members of Treaty 8 First Nations have explained although they still want to harvest fish from local waters, they perceive fishing as “off limits” in many preferred fishing areas in the upper Peace, such as Moberly and Charlie Lakes and Doig River, due to observed changes in water quality and contamination.[76] Fish consumption among the Tsay Key Ney communities has also declined in recent years related to contamination concerns.[77] In the lower Peace, increasing observations of unhealthy and deformed fish in the Peace-Athabasca Delta and surrounding region have led the Mikisew Cree and Fort Chipewyan community members to consume less fish.[78],[79]

Moberly and Charlie Lakes and Doig River are just a few examples of the many waterways in the Peace River area where observed change and perceived risk have effectively rendered the resource “off limits” to use by T8FNs members,

Treaty 8 First Nations Community Assessment Team and the Firelight Group, 2012

The sharp decline in muskrat abundance observed in the Peace-Athabasca Delta since the 1930s means that fewer trappers and families are enjoying muskrat as a country food than in the past, despite the continued desire to include muskrat in local diets.[80] Mikisew Cree elders have recently noted they are hesitant to consume muskrat and other country foods due to knowledge of the bioaccumulation of toxins in fish and wildlife.[81]

Muskrats depend on open water habitats with shallow water conditions. Image source: CheepShot via Flickr Creative Commons (copyright-free).

Access to traditional use areas along the Peace River to harvest country foods is more difficult for some Indigenous communities than in the past. Increased land development for oil and gas, forestry, mining, and hydropower as well as a general lack of access to equipment or transportation to harvesting areas are identified as key barriers that limit Indigenous communities in the central and lower Peace region from using more traditional foods.[82],[83] Concerns around the contamination of country foods are also common among communities in the Peace sub-basin. Members of Treaty 8 Tribal Association (T8TA) have been forced to limit their consumption of fish caught in the vicinity of Williston Reservoir due to warnings issued by BC Hydro for possible mercury

Since BC Hydro placed warnings and signage pertaining to mercury levels in fish created by sediments buried under water in the reservoir, local fishers have limited their consumption of fish in those waters.

Parlee and Maloney, 2017
contamination from nearby hydroelectric projects.[84] T8TA members have also expressed concern that fish in tributaries of the Peace River may have unsafe mercury levels. Also linked to contamination from the Williston Reservoir, the Tsay Key Ney have reported they are unable to harvest fish from local waters due to concerns for elevated mercury levels surrounding the reservoir. In the lower Peace, Fort Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree elders are losing confidence in the safety of consuming fish harvested in the Peace-Athabasca Delta and surrounding region, largely due to concerns about contamination from upstream industrial developments.[85]