Drivers wheel through reserve and nearby town to avoid paving and accident

A “quick” detour through a Treaty 7 reserve sparked some controversy earlier this week, but locals say trespassing on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation has always been a problem.

That problem was amplified on Aug. 24 when a fatal collision caused major delays on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary.

To avoid delays, some motorists took it upon themselves to trespass through the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

“People were honestly just trying to get home, ” said motorist Cori Van Keulen.

The motorists were met by Stoney Nakoda residents either re-directing traffic, asking drivers to turn around or in one case, asking for a toll of $20.

“It was a missed opportunity for (Stoney Nakoda) to make community relations,” by allowing motorists to cross through their reserve, added Van Keulen.

Resident Kirsten Ryder said locals just wanted their serenity. “A lot of families live just off those roads, we have elders and children who enjoy their peace and quiet.”

The roads used during the detour were private and not easily mistaken for Highway 1A.

Before the fatal collision delayed motorists, Alberta Transportation had been paving sections of the Trans-Canada in the vicinity of the Stoney First Nation.

The paving project started June 15 and included the re-paving of 26 kilometres of the eastbound TransCanada, and six kilometres of westbound TransCanada.

Along with the paving, Alberta Transportation is also adding guardrails, tension wires and widen sections of the highway.

This paving project has inadvertently caused traffic problems for the Stoney Nakoda reserve as motorists use private gravel roads to avoid traffic on Canada’s main east-west highway.

Tribal Band Administrator Ken Christensen said residents have reached a boiling point. Adding drivers “have been driving very aggressively. We’ve had complaints from a number of members regarding dust, endangering livestock, possible risk of hitting pedestrians.”

Kirsten Ryder, a member of the Stoney Nation, says travellers have been trespassing on their land since June.

Photo by Trevor SolwayChristensen added that drivers using Stoney roads has caught a lot of attention, but this has always been a problem. “We have people coming on the reserve hunting illegally, we have people who drive out here and drop their animals off on the reserve rather then taking them to an animal shelter.”

Calgarian Sonja Hayes-Powers, a driver caught in the traffic delays who detoured on to the Stoney-Nakoda Reserve, didn’t know of the building frustration caused by the paving project, but now sympathizes with the Stoneys.

“If people were going up and down, trying to make different cuts to get back to Calgary, then I would imagine by the time of that accident (residents) we’re already pretty pissed at people doing that.”

Both Hayes-Powers and Van Keulen were not asked to pay a toll of $20, nor did they see any signs demanding payment.

The nearby Town of Cochrane is another community whose tolerance of traffic being diverted from the main highway onto its streets.

“It’s been very disappointing” said Cochrane Mayor Ivan Brooker. “(Alberta Transportation) has given people that false expectation that if you take the 1A, it’ll be quicker, but that’s just not the case.”

Drivers have been advised by Alberta Transportation through digital message boards to take Highway 1A as a detour, a route that takes vehicles through both Stoney Nakoda and Cochrane.

Brooker echoes the same frustrations of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

“I can feel for them, I’m sure it’s a no different situation to where the capacity of the roads with the amount of the traffic that’s trying to use them, they’re just not built for that.”

Both Christensen and Mayor Brooker have said the responsibility lies with Alberta Transportation.

Alberta Transportation’s Tina Stewart said they would look into it during a phone interview with The Calgary Journal.

Tara Beaver, a Stoney resident, believes the situation has left much friction between First Nations and Albertans.

“It’s been a negative effect on us,” Beaver said. “We’re doing our best to get some positive momentum going, and building community relations, but something like this happens (and the media) really looks down upon us as people.”

Instead of the Stoney-Nakoda “missing an opportunity” to bridge that gap between First Nations and the rest of Alberta, University of Victoria sociology Prof. Bruce Ravelli believes “people who are Caucasian and in the advantage, like myself, we have more to learn about this issue than the First Nations need to learn. I think the real opportunity is in teaching other people like me the beauty and diversity of First Nations people.”

tsolway@cjournal.ca

To contact the editor responsible for this article; ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr, licensed to Creative Commons