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North Saskatchewan River could be Canada’s next Heritage River

People canoe on what could be Canada’s next Heritage River. A 718-kilometre section of the North Saskatchewan River is being considered for recognition to the program that encourages its long-term management to conserve its natural, cultural and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of all Canadians. | Métis Crossing photo

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

The Governments of Canada and Alberta have both agreed to accept the nomination of the North Saskatchewan River as a Canadian Heritage River.

The announcement was made last Friday by representatives of both provincial and federal governments.

“Indigenous peoples have a long and deep relationship with the North Saskatchewan River that exists to this day,” said Whitney Issik, Alberta minister of Environment and Parks. 

“As our province has grown, more and more Albertans have come to rely on and cherish the North Saskatchewan River, both as a source of drinking water for more than one million people and for the river’s dynamic aquatic ecosystem and the many exciting recreational opportunities that await throughout the entire North Saskatchewan River valley. I’m pleased to endorse the North Saskatchewan River’s nomination as a Canadian Heritage River.”

The entire 718 kilometres of the North Saskatchewan River from the Banff National Park boundary to the Alberta/Saskatchewan provincial border has been nominated. This excludes the 49-kilometre section within Banff National Park that was previously designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 1989.

The nomination was made by Smoky Lake County.

The North Saskatchewan River is a traditional gathering place, travel route and home for Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Ktunaxa, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Inuit and Assiniboine. It also played a major role in transportation and communication from eastern Canada to the Rocky Mountains for 300 years starting in the middle of the 17th century.

The nomination is an important step in the process of creating a national urban park in Treaty 6 Territory, says Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.

“Indigenous peoples in Treaty 6 Territory have a deep and spiritual connection to the North Saskatchewan River and its river valley and I am grateful for this development. The river was a traditional travel route, and its valley was home to, and a gathering place for, many diverse Indigenous peoples. This is a positive step in our shared reconciliation journey and will provide opportunities for healing and cultural celebration for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” he said.

“This river has played a pivotal role in the development of our Nation in Alberta,” added Métis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras.

“It was an original transportation route along which our ancestors travelled and sang their songs. It was, and continues to be, a source of cultural, spiritual and economic abundance for our people. 

“Along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, the Metis people joined our First Nations ancestors, and welcomed our European friends to build homes and communities. It is our responsibility to ensure the long-term health and integrity of this river as a source of life and abundance for all people in Alberta.”

The North Saskatchewan River flows nearly 1,300 kilometres from its origin in the Columbia Icefields in the Rocky Mountains across central Alberta and into the “forks” of Saskatchewan. 

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System is Canada’s national river conservation program. It was established in 1984 as a collaboration among various levels of government as a way of giving national recognition to our country’s outstanding rivers. The program encourages their long-term management to conserve their natural, cultural and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians now and in the future. 

The river can now be considered for full designation. As the lead federal agency on the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, Parks Canada now will review documentation to support the application. It will also seek public input. The process can take several months to years before the review is complete and a decision is made.

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