By Shari Narine
BIGSTONE CREE NATION, Alta.
At about noon on March 13, some vehicles belonging to multinational oil, gas and forestry companies were being denied access at turn-around points established on Highways 813 and 754 on Bigstone Cree Nation land.
Chief Gordon Auger says he didn’t plan this action and steps may have been taken due to misinterpretation of his directive by the management team.
Auger says it was his intention for toll booths to be established, not for vehicles to be used as toll stations.
Auger says he has not been in Wabasca for more than a week and won’t be returning to the First Nation until late Monday afternoon.
Last Friday, land manager Troy Stuart said border security would be put in place on March 13. A Feb. 20 letter, which both Auger and Stuart signed, went to Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan saying border security would be in place as of that date.
On Sunday, however, Auger told Windspeaker.com it was “never the plan” to block multinationals from entering the First Nation.
Auger said the direction he gave to council this morning was to determine where toll booths should be located. Then, he said, signs will be put up indicating toll booth locations and when toll-taking would begin. Augers says this will be the item on the agenda when he meets with council Tuesday morning.
“To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing.. but maybe we can reconvene what we’re going to do with the planning,” he said.
Auger contends that band members have the right to take action.
“They’re just practising right now,” he said. “It’s a good exercise, but I don’t think they should be sending people back, just maybe let them know … maybe a public awareness.”
Auger says he has received numerous phone calls from companies and government since action began today.
He says he has been told that some companies have been allowed to go through.
“That’s not really the intent, but again, that’s not my call or my decision, but hopefully we can resolve that,” he said.
Ken Carpenter, owner of Exact Oilfield, one of 12 companies, along with log haulers, that are on the no the entry list to the First Nation, says he was surprised to learn that action had begun. While he has had no direct contact with chief or council and presently has no operations on the First Nation, he says keeping away the companies that do have operations there will hurt locals. Local people will not be able to go to work if they need outside supervision at the site.
Also to be denied access are vehicles from CNRL, Laricina, Husky, Cenovus, Exact Oilfield, Alstar Oilfield, ALPAC, BonaVista, TransCanada, Banister, TOLKO, and West Fraser and all log haulers
“I think all parties involved have got to sit down. There’s always a way to negotiate things or get out everybody’s thoughts. That’s the best way to do anything, through negotiation,” said Carpenter.
Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin was also surprised to learn that action had gone ahead today on Bigstone Cree Nation. However, he would not address the issues facing that First Nation.
“I think there’s more dialogue that’s warranted and more opportunities to come together. I wouldn’t be opposed to hosting such dialogue here in Edmonton with companies such as Kinder Morgan Shell and all those partners. I think they need to create spaces for dialogue, more dialogue. There’s a lot of misunderstanding with some of the projects that are going on,” said Morin.
Kyle Ferguson, spokesperson for Indigenous Relations, said a government envoy had been appointed to work with the Bigstone Cree.
“Our intent is to resolve this issue peacefully and expeditiously. Industry in the area has been notified and RCMP officers have been dispatched to monitor the situation and to alert drivers to ensure the safety of motorists and members of the First Nations,” said Ferguson in an email.