Chief and Council have struck a ring road deal, but band members may disagree
The Calgary Journal first reported that, on Sept. 10, Tsuu T'ina Chief and Council and the Province of Alberta tentatively approved road construction through the Nation. It needs the band vote to proceed.
If approved, the last quarter of the projected ring road will connect Sarcee Trail with 37th Street S.W. - southwest of the Glenmore Reservoir.
This is a complex, multijurisdictional issue.
Reserves are handled federally and through the band's Chief and Council; the province oversees ring road development, and congestion in Calgary is dealt with municipally.
The proposed Final Agreement
On Oct. 24, Tsuu T'ina Nation band members will vote on a referendum that could decide the fate of nearly 1,000 acres of treaty land. Referred to as the "Final Agreement," the decision ultimately falls to the nearly 1,000 eligible voters of the 2,000-person band.
Although information sessions are available to Tsuu T'ina band members and elders throughout October, details of the current negotiation — including its exact route or the land being exchanged — aren't public.
However, some involved with Tsuu T'ina Nation are addressing their concerns.
Bridging two nations
Lee Crowchild has been the Director of Public Works for Tsuu T'ina Nation for nine years.
"I harken back to my grandfather," Crowchild says.
He remembers being 10 and watching his grandfather David Crowchild stretch a ribbon across the middle of a Crowchild Trail bridge. The road was named after David.
"As he cut it, he says, 'May this be the beginnings of bridging the gap between people.'"
Crowchild says the ring road has to meet the words of his grandfather. He also warns against reducing the agreement to dollars and cents when other interests are at stake.
"If we don't address the issue of building (cultural) bridges, we'll lose a lot," Crowchild says.
He suggests tangible cultural collaboration with the city and province be written into the agreement, calling for Tsuu T'ina programs in Calgary schools and Native positions on provincial boards, such as education and transportation.
Federal response to the Ring Road
Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart has neighboured Tsuu T'ina Nation for five terms in Ward 13. She says one of her top priorities is to "finish and complete the whole Ring Road around the city."
Colley-Urquart says, "First Nations people in Canada fall under the (federal) jurisdiction of Indian and Northern Affairs. And then, it's even more ideal to have the Prime Minister in our riding that overlaps a lot of the areas that I represent, and the interface with First Nations."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's riding is in Southwest Calgary, adjacent to Tsuu T'ina Nation.
Colley-Urquhart says she has known Harper and his wife, Laureen, for 15 years. "I consider the Prime Minister and his wife to be good friends," she continues.
Additionally, Colley-Urquhart has been president of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's southwest riding association in Calgary for the past two years.
"If in fact the Province and the Tsuu T'ina Nation reach agreement, firstly, and secondly, if the members of the Tsuu T'ina Nation reach agreement and vote for it — the next step would be, how do we get this filed and to the top of the pile in Ottawa?" says Colley-Urquhart, regarding how the reserve land exchange would be handled federally.
The Prime Minister's press secretary, Carl Vallée, responded to news of the pending vote in an email:
"We are pleased that there is an agreement in principle with the Tsuu T'ina Nation on building the Calgary Ring Road... We respect the right of the Tsuu T'ina Band members to decide on any potential agreement through a referendum. Should there be a final agreement, we will work with all parties concerned to assist in its implementation."
Jean Crowder is the Official Opposition Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan, B.C., representing the New Democratic Party.
"Although it's speculation, many feel that just overall, the Prime Minister is much more hands on with the Aboriginal file – not just in regard to this matter, but overall," Crowder says.
"You're in a bit of a nest because you've got these overlapping jurisdictions."
Crowder is also concerned that the land offered to the Tsuu T'ina in exchange may be fee simple land that wouldn't technically be legally recognized as reserve land.
If the land received by the Nation were fee simple, Crowder says Tsuu T'ina would be "looking at a long, complicated, ridiculous process to have it added to the reserve."
She says the big question for the band is whether or not the land that they're going to acquire is of higher use value than the land that they're selling off.
Comments from Alberta Transportation Minister
Although Alberta's Transportation Minister 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.
McIver acknowledges that there is an agreement in principle, but that he won't discuss the details in advance of the pending vote by band members.
Regarding criticisms of provincial debt, Ric McIver's press secretary Parker Hogan says, "There are certain plans for alternative funding options. That's just a different use of money."
The lack of disclosure on the details concerns Scott Hennig, at the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. Hennig says taxpayers have the right to know the details in advance since they are the ones who ultimately will pay tens-of-millions of dollars for the road's completion.
Asked when the province will stop asking Tsuu T'ina for permission to build a road through their nation, Hogan asked figuratively, "When will the sky not be blue?"
- By KYLE NAPIER