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Bearspaw Chief calls out Minister McIver over false dam project statements

“I am not aware of any blessings by the Stoney Chiefs pertaining to any site of a proposed dam, I know haven’t provided one,” wrote Dixon in the letter. “This mischaracterization gives the false impression we are in favour of the dam project wherein no decision has yet been made.”

ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – Îyârhe Nakoda chiefs and council are calling upon Minister Ric McIver to retract a statement made at the spring legislature sitting regarding a proposed dam project on the Bow River near Mînî Thnî.

McIver told the speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta that a band council resolution passed and a blessing was made by Îyârhe Nakoda chiefs and elders at the site of a future dam, a statement Bearspaw First Nation Chief Darcy Dixon called a falsehood.

“I am not aware of any blessings by the Stoney chiefs pertaining to any site of a proposed dam. I know haven’t provided one,” wrote Dixon in a letter addressed to McIver. “This mischaracterization gives the false impression we are in favour of the dam project wherein no decision has yet been made.”

Dixon further noted the three Stoney Nakoda Nations of Bearspaw, Chiniki and Goodstoney, have only authorized access to the Alberta government to reserve land for “preliminary geotechnical work, nothing else.”

In his statement made on the last day of the spring legislature, the minister, who was formerly responsible for transportation and is now in charge of municipal affairs, said the passing of a band council resolution meant “allowing Alberta Environment to do the work.”

He further noted that “given the fact that the elders and chiefs have even blessed the site of the future dam, (…) means our First Nations partners are doing their part.”

McIver asked the former minister in charge of environment, Jason Nixon, to “tell the House how your ministry will shorten the time until we can get an agreement with the Stoney people on where the dam will go.”

“It matters to the Stoney people. It matters to everyone in southern Alberta,” he said.

In the letter, Dixon reminded McIver that a band council resolution executed by Stoney Tribal Council in June 2022 stated Stoney Nakoda Nations would have an information meeting with the minister and senior Alberta government staff on the file. The resolution recognizes the meeting would not be viewed as a comprehensive consultation.

“Any decision in respect to the development and possible construction of a new dam on the Bow River on the Stoney Indian Reserve or on the traditional lands of the Stoney people would require a comprehensive Federal Assessment and a majority vote in favour in a referendum that included all members of each of the Bearspaw, Chiniki and Goodstoney Nations,” wrote Dixon to McIver.

“We are a very long way from a political ‘blessing’ on the project or any site and I would request you retract your statement noted above in respect to myself immediately.”

As of writing, the minister still had not issued a response to Dixon or any other members of Stoney Tribal Council.

Bearspaw CEO Rob Shotclose called McIver’s actions an “usual” practice, in which the three Nations are being called upon to give up land for the betterment of others living in non-Indigenous communities.

Discussion around a new Bow River reservoir began in May 2017 with a report by the province’s Bow River Working Group, which included a recommendation to complete conceptual assessments of three major reservoir options on the Bow River, upstream of Calgary.

In spring 2021, Alberta Environment began engagement and field studies as part of phase two to determine Bow River reservoir options.

A feasibility study continues to look at three reservoir options in the Bow River basin, upstream of Calgary, including an expansion of the existing Ghost Reservoir, a new reservoir between Cochrane and the Bearspaw Dam at the western edge of Calgary, and a new reservoir between Seebe and Mînî Thnî on Stoney Nakoda Nations land.

A feasibility study final report is expected near the end of 2023, as per current Alberta government timelines.

McIver’s actions are especially topical, Shotclose noted, with the 10-year anniversary of the flood, which devastated communities such as Calgary by way of overland flooding from the Bow River in June 2013. While Mînî Thnî was also hard hit by the event, flood damage there mostly occurred due to rising groundwater levels.

Shotclose said the amount of land required to build a dam is a big ask of the three Nations, which are already limited in the amount of land allotted to them by Treaty 7.

“We’re already short on land and it’s not an easy decision to give up 40,000 more acres to flood our last bit of untouched river valley,” Shotclose said.

“To me, that’s a no-go, but there are people behind the scenes, of course, working to try and make these things happen.”

Dixon’s letter was co-signed by Bearspaw councillors, Keith Lefthand, Dacster Amos, Rod Hunter and Pierre Lefthand, as well as Shotclose, Chiniki Chief Aaron Young and Goodstoney Chief Clifford Poucette.

The Outlook reached out to Goodstoney and Chiniki council members for additional comment but has not received a response.

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