By Shari Narine
BIGSTONE CREE NATION, Alta.
Frustration with multi-national oil, gas and forestry companies has led Bigstone Cree Nation to plan drastic action.
On March 13, “border security” will be erected at the intersection of highways 754 and 813 within treaty entitlement lands. Access will be denied to CNRL, Husky, Cenovus, Laricina, Exact Oilfield, Alstar Oilfield, ALPAC and all log haulers, according to BCN’s website.
The action is being undertaken for political, environmental and economical reasons.
In a letter sent Feb. 20 to Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan, Chief Gordon Auger outlined his concerns: lack of contract opportunities for local companies; unfulfilled impact benefit agreements; lack of meaningful consultation by both the multinational companies and the province’s Aboriginal Consultation Office; protection of surface and ground water; delayed transfer of treaty entitlement lands; and neglect of a referendum in the transfer of administration and control of highways.
“This is not something that just came up in the last two days. This is a last resort … this is not chief and council’s first choice,” said Troy Stuart, BCN’s land manager. “Some of these discussions have been … outstanding in years.”
Stuart points to the practise of multinationals using outside contractors to do work that could be undertaken by local contractors. This results in BCN members seeing little benefit from oil, gas and forestry production.
Stuart says chief and council are having meetings with both Alberta Indigenous Relations and the companies in question. He also says that past meetings had resulted in no changes in practise by either the companies or the government.
“We have tried many routes of civil means to end the unjust enrichment of multi-national companies …,” wrote Auger in his letter to Feehan. “This unanimous decision is not taken lightly nor is it the first choice of action normally under taken by this nation.”
A building has been erected at the intersection, and border security will be manned by at least six people 24/7 “for the foreseeable future,” said Stuart. “They’re under strict protocol from Bigstone Cree Nation.”
The website states that there will be no violence.
Stuart is confident this action will make a difference and doesn’t anticipate the security border staying up long.
“Within days, weeks, that’s what we’re expecting. But, like I said, we’re prepared for the foreseeable future,” he said.
In an email response, Julie Woo with CNRL public affairs stated, “Canadian Natural is aware of the situation and is currently working with the Bigstone Cree Nations Council to resolve it accordingly.”
Kim Guttormson, with Husky Energy, said the company is also aware of the planned action. “We’d be respectful,” she said, “but I really can’t speculate on something that hasn’t happened yet.”
The government is “working diligently … to resolve the issue promptly,” said Indigenous Relations press secretary Kyle Ferguson in an email response.
He said Feehan and staff had met with Auger and council on Thursday.
"The Government of Alberta will make every effort to prevent the establishment of toll gates. If prevention efforts prove unsuccessful, the government will then focus on ending a blockade peacefully and promptly through open dialogue and building relationships," said Ferguson.
Related: Road maintenance to Chipewayn Lake community at risk. http://www.windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/road-maintenance-to-chipewayn-lake-at-risk-if-bigstone-blockade-proceeds/