Surveyor stakes on Tsuu T’ina Nation despite band veto

Details of the construction of Calgary’s southwest ring road could be announced in a matter of days.

Negotiations over the planned Calgary Ring Road have been taking place between Tsuu T’ina Nation, the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta for over 50 years. It now seems that there is an agreement in place.

The Calgary Journal has learned that on Sept. 10, ring road developments through Tsuu T’ina Nation were approved by band Chief and Council. The current proposal would result in the completion of the last quarter of the provincial freeway.

A son of a Tsuu T’ina Nation band member says his mother owns one of 30 family homes that could be impacted. This community concern could affect approval that Tsuu T’ina Chief and Council needs before road developments take place.

The Final Agreement, as it’s called in the posted Notice of Referendum in Tsuu T’ina Nation Council Chambers, still depends on the scheduled Oct. 24 vote among eligible Tsuu T’ina band members.

Cory Cardinal finding a half-dozen survey stakes behind his mother’s Tsuu T’ina Nation house.

Photo by Kyle NapierIncluding the last vote in 2009, band members have consistently rejected ring road referendums by majority. The proposed 2009 Final Agreement would have seen the province exchange $275 million and 4,858 acres of land for 988 acres of Tsuu T’ina land.

Details of the current agreement, including an exact route, have not yet been made public. However, the announcement could end the longstanding debate over the need for a major highway and bypass in the southwest corner of Calgary, as it is expected to connect Sarcee Trail with 37th Street S.W.

Views of the ring road from Tsuu T’ina Nation

The coordinator for the Native Student Centre at Mount Royal University, Cory Cardinal, works less than five kilometres away from his mother’s house on Tsuu T’ina Nation.

“I’m against it,” Cardinal says. “That land is very dear to me.” In addition to possibly losing his family home, Cardinal fears the future of several nearby burial grounds and the student’s sweat lodge.

Once a month, he visits the backyard where he grew up and broke in wild horses. During his last two trips, Cardinal found survey stakes behind his mother’s house which go through three burial grounds – one of which holds his ancestral relatives and family friends, and another with buried horses from his ranching days.

Cory Cardinal, the co-ordinator of Mount Royal University’s Native Student Centre, quotes Chief Bull Head, “My people once owned all of this country, and went where they wanted. And now you’ll take away from us this remnant that is left to us.”

Photo by Kyle NapierAsked about the survey stakes, Alberta’s Transportation Minister Ric McIver says, “My understanding is, there might be stakes there as to an illustration as to where a future alignment might be. That’s entirely possible.” McIver says issues around burial grounds would be handled by the Nation.

Multiple attempts to contact Tsuu T’ina Nation Chief and Council – leaving voicemails, emails and visiting Tsuu T’ina Nation Council Chambers in person – have not yet been returned.

However, Tsuu T’ina Nation spokesperson Peter Manywounds responded, saying, “We are not making any comment. Period.”

Diane Colley-Urquhart has neighboured Tsuu T’ina Nation for five terms as alderwoman for Ward 13.

She says, “It’s my view that an announcement around the Ring Road is imminent. This is one of the top priorities for Ward 13 – to finish and complete the whole Ring Road around the city.”

She adds contextually that she and Tsuu T’ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot “go way back,” as their sons used to share taxis to a private school they attended together.

Although Alberta’s Minister of Transportation Ric McIver maintains, “There has been no approval of the agreement with the Nation to finalize anything,” he says he is pleased with Ald. Colley-Urquhart’s optimism.

Audie Meguinis discusses encouraging Tsuu T’ina Nation to vote no on the Oct. 24 Final Agreement referendum. Meguinis says, “We’ve got to get rid of the talk, and the people who are coming up with the proposals.”

Photo by Kyle NapierWhile Cory Cardinal is ineligible to vote on the referendum, he says he depends on youth vote to stop ring road development.

“That’s who changed the vote last time,” says Cardinal. “They said, ‘No, we’re not giving away the land for anything. It doesn’t matter how much money you give us, or whatever promises – it’s our land.’”

Indeed, Tsuu T’ina youth are mobilizing on this front.

Audie Wyatt Meguinis, a 25-year-old Tsuu T’ina student, says that band youth are exploring Facebook groups and blogs to protest the referendum.

Meguinis began protesting the ring road after stopping to help a Tsuu T’ina band member put up “Vote No” signs.

“I take great pride in that,” he says. “We’ve just got to educate the youth in this ring road.”

Meguinis says he’ll fight the referendum, “No matter how much money is involved in this.” He asks, “What can you do if the city’s grown so big around the reserve, and you’re seeing your culture – everything that makes Tsuu T’ina – disappear?”

Several information sessions are available to Tsuu T’ina band members and elders before the Oct. 24 Final Agreement referendum vote. The dates are available on the Notice of Referendum posted inside Tsuu T’ina Council Chambers.

Municipal and provincial views on ring road

This infographic, available through the Government of Alberta Ministry of Transportation, details the projected Future SW Ring Road as it relates to Southwest Calgary, Alta.

Map courtesy of the Government of AlbertaFavouring future construction, McIver says, “Without the southwest portion, it’s kind of a horseshoe road. While that’s a nice tribute to Calgary’s Western heritage, it’s not a ring road.”

McIver and Ward 6 Ald. Richard Pootmans share similar sentiments.

Richard Pootmans has been working as an alderman for communities neighbouring Tsuu T’ina Nation since 2010. He says this road would solve traffic problems in Calgary’s Southwest.

“Congestion is now the number one issue for Calgarians,” Ald. Pootmans says. “Congestion’s getting in the way of their commutes. Their commute times are too long. It’s an unproductive way of spending time. It’s not good for our health, our environment, and I think the Ring Road is going to be a big piece of the solution.”

Neither McIver nor Ald. Pootmans would address benefits or issues for Tsuu T’ina Nation, advising to ask Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Chief and Council instead.

Ald. Colley-Urquhart says, “What I noticed to be most significant is (Tsuu T’ina Nation’s) whole desire and notion to have aggressive economic development out there, which will fundamentally change the land.”

The Calgary Journal examines the Southwest Ring Road controversy

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