UNESCO Monitoring Mission to Wood Buffalo National Park

September 25 - October 4, 2016



The UNESCO has come to Wood Buffalo National Park to monitor the park’s status as a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO ten-day monitoring mission will hear from indigenous groups, scientists, and experts about impacts of hydroelectric and oil sands activities such as the Site C dam and proposed Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine.

The industrial activities threatening Wood Buffalo National Park are also threatening the Mikisew Cree’s ability to sustain their culture and heritage, and the ability to exercise their aboriginal treaty rights.

Invited by the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the UNESCO mission comes one year after the UNESCO expressed concern about “… the environmental impacts on the Peace-Athabasca Delta from hydro-electric dams, oil sands development, and proposed open-pit mining in the vicinity of the property…” and  “… lack of engagement with indigenous communities in monitoring activities, as well as insufficient consideration of traditional ecological knowledge…” Read the one-page UNESCO decision here and the UNESCO’s mission press release here.

One possible mission outcome is the UNESCO placing Wood Buffalo National Park on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. This would require Canada to find solutions to risks posed to the park. The Mikisew Cree are asking Canadian federal and provincial government to create a buffer zone around the park and for stronger regulations for industrial activities affecting its ecosystems.

Steve Courtoreille, Mikisew Chief; and Melody Lepine, Director of Government and Industry Relations, are participating in the mission. To schedule a media interview, contact Heather Badenoch, 613-859-8232, heather@villagepr.ca

To learn more, follow us Facebook and @MikisewCreeGIR on Twitter.

“Down south they have the rainforest. Up here we have the delta.” — Mikisew Cree First Nation member

“We are already deeply concerned about the impact of industrial activity on our traditional lands within the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park. Those threats are growing with the proposed Site C Dam and oil sands expansion. We are using every possible means before it is too late to save the land that has supported our people for millennia,” - Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille

What can you do to help?

Call to Action:

Write or Tweet to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  asking him to take steps to stop the development of hydroelectric projects and oil sands activities that may negatively affect the Park, and share your letter with:

  1. Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna
  2. Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett
  3. Federal NDP Environment Critic Linda Duncan
  4. Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley
  5. Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark
  6. Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips
  7. Alberta Minister of Energy Marg McCuaig-Boyd
  8. British Columbia Minister of Environment Mary Polak
  9. British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett
  10.  CEO of Parks Canada Daniel Watson

In The News



 Mikisew Cree First Nation are traditional stewards of the Peace-Athabasca Delta

The Mikisew Cree First Nation are traditional stewards of the lands and resources around the Peace-Athabasca Delta. As stewards, Mikisew have witnessed Wood Buffalo deteriorate as a result of industrial activities and climate change. They see even bigger threats to Wood Buffalo on the horizon.

If the threats to Wood Buffalo are not corrected, the outstanding universal values of this World Heritage Site may be lost forever. Because Mikisew’s culture is tied to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the loss of Wood Buffalo’s natural values would put Mikisew Cree’s distinctive culture at risk. Other indigenous communities stand to be similarly affected.

For these reasons, Mikisew is asking that Wood Buffalo be added to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

 Wood Buffalo is a Global Treasure

Wood Buffalo is a national park that is situated primarily in northeastern Alberta, Canada. It is located downstream from some of the largest industrial projects in the world, including oil sands projects.

Wood Buffalo contains examples of the most unique and unsurpassed ecosystems in the world. It's important attributes include:

• the world’s largest freshwater inland delta, the Peace-Athabasca Delta;

• outstanding examples of ecological and biological processes;

• significant natural habitat for threatened species such as wood bison;

• outstanding migratory bird populations, including endangered whooping cranes;



• unique perched basins;

• large expanses of boreal forest, which absorb the world’s carbon;

• exceptional natural beauty; and

• indigenous cultural and spiritual areas.

Wood Buffalo sustains multiple indigenous communities, including the Mikisew Cree First Nation. The physical and cultural survival of Mikisew cannot be separated from the health of Wood Buffalo.



The Threats to Wood Buffalo’s Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs) are Serious and Imminent

What is threatening Wood Buffalo?

• Existing hydro-regulation is causing the drying of the Peace-Athabasca Delta;

• A massive new dam has been proposed on the Peace River that could further damage the Delta;

• Decades of oil sands activities are contaminating critical parts of Wood Buffalo, particularly the Delta. Oil sands projects disrupt migratory bird pathways, remove vast quantities of water from the Athabasca River, contaminate the air and leak toxic waters into the Athabasca River at a rate equivalent to a major oil spill every year;

• The world’s largest oil sands mine is proposed on the Park’s doorstep and partly within a watershed flowing into Wood Buffalo;

• Climate change is exacerbating the drying out of the Delta; and

• Canadian governments are removing environmental protections and failing to adequately conserve Wood Buffalo in the face of these threats.

Canada says the threats to Wood Buffalo are not serious because parts of the Park will remain even if the Peace-Athabasca Delta is compromised by upstream oil sands developments and hydro-dams. This is wrong. Wood Buffalo cannot maintain ecological completeness or support its OUVs if the Delta is threatened. Also, indigenous communities need the Delta for their cultural survival.

Strong evidence exists that the ecological integrity of Wood Buffalo is at grave risk.

Renowned scientists, former Directors General of Parks Canada and former Superintendents of Wood Buffalo have reviewed Mikisew’s petition and all confirm that Wood Buffalo’s OUVs are in danger from serious and immediate threats.

The indigenous communities that live in and around Wood Buffalo have witnessed severe declines in Wood Buffalo’s water levels, bird populations, wood bison habitat and ecological functionality. They agree that these declines are getting worse.

Canada Lacks a Robust Legislative, Regulatory and Policy Framework to protect Wood Buffalo



Canada recently reduced and, in some cases, fully removed necessary environmental protections. Protections under the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Species at Risk Act have been reduced to allow for faster approvals of industrial projects.

Canada’s regulatory framework is not protecting Wood Buffalo. The regulatory process for the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River ignored scientific evidence showing that the dam could impact the Peace-Athabasca Delta. And the regulatory review of the new oil sands mine being proposed on Wood Buffalo’s doorstep is not fully considering impacts to Wood Buffalo.

Canada’s “Commitments” to act do not stand up to scrutiny

Canada’s commitments to monitor the issues facing Wood Buffalo are misleading. The reality is that the monitoring programs listed in Canada’s response to Mikisew’s petition have identified serious negative changes to Wood Buffalo’s OUVs, but no corrective actions have been forthcoming. Without action, these are essentially commitments to document the deterioration and death of Wood Buffalo.

Canada says that it collaborates with indigenous groups in relation to the threats facing Wood Buffalo. The reality is that Canada is excluding indigenous peoples from decisions relating to Wood Buffalo and research programs. Mikisew and other indigenous communities continue to voice concerns that Canada is ignoring the threats to Wood Buffalo to no avail.

All Treaty 8 First Nations in Alberta recognize the need for the World Heritage Committee to prompt Canada to shift from rhetoric to credible actions.

Despite evidence showing that oil sands projects are threatening Wood Buffalo, Alberta anticipates increasing the amount of bitumen extracted from the oil sands region upstream of Wood Buffalo by 1.8 million barrels per day from current levels. Alberta has never refused an oil sands project.

Canada refers to two programs, the Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecological Monitoring Program (PADEMP) and the Joint Alberta-Canada Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM), to suggest it has a policy framework to address threats to Wood Buffalo. These programs actually highlight that Canada is failing to credibly respond to threats to Wood Buffalo.

PADEMP has named contamination and lack of flow regulation as drivers of Wood Buffalo’s ecological decline. Yet, PADEMP has no power to take action to protect Wood Buffalo or affect policy or regulatory frameworks.

Even though JOSM’s research is showing threats to Wood Buffalo, governments continue to approve projects that threaten Wood Buffalo at a rapid pace. Just like PADEMP, JOSM has no power to take any actions to protect Wood Buffalo.

The monitoring programs listed in Canada’s response to Mikisew’s petition have identified serious negative changes to Wood Buffalo’s OUVs, but no corrective actions have been forthcoming. Without action, these are essentially commitments to document the deterioration and death of Wood Buffalo.



Inaction could have serious implications for the Convention and work of the World Heritage Committee

Without direction from the World Heritage Committee, Mikisew is concerned that Canada will not take any actions to help conserve Wood Buffalo.

The benefits of the World Heritage designation for Wood Buffalo will disappear without an “In Danger” listing because Canada is not taking necessary corrective actions to save Wood Buffalo. It is critical that the Convention be seen as an effective tool for conserving World Heritage.

Canada says that the threats to Wood Buffalo are overstated because some dangers facing Wood Buffalo may only affect the Peace-Athabasca Delta. This position ignores that the Delta is an Outstanding Universal Value designated under the Convention.

Failing to add Wood Buffalo to the list of World Heritage in Danger would create a precedent that state parties can “pick and choose” which OUVs to protect. The universal acceptance of the Convention would be diminished if state parties are allowed to sacrifice inconvenient OUVs, particularly those as critical as the world’s largest inland river delta

Mikisew Cree First Nation is a Cree nation whose lands and rights depend on the Athabasca River and surrounding waters. The Mikisew Cree signed Treaty 8 in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. 

A   C A L L   T O   S A V E   W O O D   B U F F A L O   N A T I O N A L   P A R K


Mikisew Cree First Nation members describe the importance of the Peace Athabasca Delta and their concerns about the proposed Teck Frontier Oil Sands Project


Pictures provided by Bruce Maclean, CBM (Community Based Monitoring) 


"Water is EVERTHING": Nipi Tapitam
An Indigenous understanding of the outstanding universal value of
Wood Buffalo National Park
Prepared by the Mikisew Cree First Nation for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre
(click link below to view report)