An Evolving Data Management System: The Mikisew Cree First Nations’ Approach

The Mikisew Cree First Nation in north-eastern Alberta is monitoring the impacts of large-scale development projects that threaten their traditional lands and waters, their rights and way of life. Threats include large water withdrawals on the Athabasca River from oil sands operations, hydro development that has changed seasonal flooding to the Peace Athabasca Delta, and climate change that compounds and impacts the amount and timing of precipitation. Changes in water quantity have created navigational hazards and made safe navigation unpredictable.  

Their community-based monitoring program uses both western science and Indigenous Knowledge indicators to track impacts. Guardians collect samples for water quality analysis, and measure water quantity, as well as winter snow and ice. The data provides valuable information to track changing conditions due to development and climate change as well as inform the community about travel safety.

“When we started developing our data collection and management system, we used open source software that was free but required expensive hand held devices that lost data in cold temperatures,” says Bruce Maclean, project coordinator. “We went back to using paper field cards and an excel spreadsheet but that meant that data wasn’t available for others to use. We are now developing a custom system that can be used on Android and iOS devices. This will give us the flexibility to build apps that will be available for community members to easily download. It will be a way to get more participation in our studies.”  

The Mikisew Cree guardians now collect data using a custom app and database system developed in partnership with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Custom field data collection sheets have quality control built in and link directly to a secure data storage system that incorporates tools for online reporting and data manipulation. The database system also links seamlessly with their land use planning and regulatory management software called Community Knowledge Keeper. Developers Affinity Bridge, have a track record of developing unique software tools to solve unique social problems.