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Tsuut’ina and Springbank landowners unite to protest

A cross-cultural event in the dual spirit of reconciliation and landowners’ right took to the banks of the Elbow River along Redwood Meadows on the morning of Sept. 29.
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Unity Ride
Tsuu T'ina Chief Lee Crowchild bows his head in prayer before the start of the Unity Ride at Moose Hill Ranch, south of Cochrane on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Participants rode together along the Elbow River as proof of reconciliation and unity in opposition to the proposed Springbank dam. (Photo by Yasmin Mayne).

A cross-cultural event in the dual spirit of reconciliation and landowners’ right took to the banks of the Elbow River along Redwood Meadows on the morning of Sept. 29. The peaceful protest, the Ride for Reconciliation and the River, drew some 50 riders from the grassroots Don’t Dam Springbank group, comprised of mostly landowners who would be impacted by the controversial dry dam project proposed by the province, and the Tsuut’ina First Nation, which borders Redwood Meadows and runs through Calgary. Elder Bruce Starlight kicked off the protest with a traditional smudging ceremony. Both groups are adamant that the dry dam (known as SR1) is an unacceptable flood mitigation solution, which will have devastating effects to private land, water and will fail to offer any flood protection to those upstream – including Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows. Kevin Littlelight, spokesperson for the Tsuut’ina Nation and one of the event organizers, said the event was a great success and sent a message that communities have come together to take a stand. “It’s a message to all people ... especially to the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. It shows the people are united. It doesn’t matter if they’re native or non-native,” said Littlelight. “We expected a lot better from an NDP government – we expected more respect for the environment by the NDP ... There’s a driving force behind this yet to be seen. Why are they just sticking to this site? You know there’s politics in this somewhere.” Lee Drewry is one of the affected landowners who would see around two-thirds of his five-generation family land in Springbank submerged should the dam be built. He is also a spokesperson for Don’t Dam Springbank. Don’t Dam Springbank and the Tsuut’ina Nation both maintain that the most suitable solution that would limit impacts on the land while affording the most flood protection possible is to build a dam at McLean Creek. “We’re going to fight this thing to the end – it’s a bad project,” said Drewry, explaining that the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency review is nearly midway but is now at a standstill, requesting more information from Alberta Transportation. “Right now, I think the Alberta government has a lot of work to do to answer the questions on environment from the federal government ... The federal review can take up to one year, but when they have these questions the clock stops ticking,” said Drewry, crediting the idea for the unity ride to Tsuut’ina Chief Crowchild. “Right now, I think the Alberta government has a lot of work to do to answer questions on the environment from the federal government.” Littlelight said the Nation is “100 per cent against the SR1,” a project his people maintain has miserably failed in consultations on the part of the government, impinges on landowner rights and will impact the land and pollute the water. “It’s going to damage our waters, it’s going to damage our land – we have sacred sites that will be damaged by this,” said Littlelight, adding that in addition to Indigenous rights, his people feel the government is not respectful of pioneer rights – those of the Springbank landowners whose lands would be devastated, many whose residency in the region predates the City of Calgary. Spring public consultation sessions held by the province highlighted the parameters of the $432-million project, a cost that has nearly doubled since conception. The dam project was announced by the province in 2015 in response to the devastating 2013 Calgary flood and has been met with considerable opposition from stakeholders. This spring, Brian Mason, minister of transportation announced that the province may have to expropriate more than 3,000 acres of private lands required to build the diversion and reservoir. Learn more at dontdamspringbank.org or transportation.alberta.ca/sr1.htm.