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A look at the year in news for the MD of Bighorn, Stoney Nakoda and Kananaskis Country

The past year was a busy year for residents of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, the MD of Bighorn and Kananaskis Country.

JANUARY 

Stoney Nakoda has a rough start to the year as the community mourns the loss of mother, sister, aunt, friend Iliena Wildman. "She was a very kind, loving person who had an impact on anybody she met and she welcomed everybody with an open heart into her life," her brother Daniel Wildman said. A mother to five children, Iliena died on Jan. 3 after being struck by a vehicle in the Morley townsite.

Bighorn residents speak up about their concerns over a second hotel development for Harvie Heights. There is an open discussion about the multi-storey, 80-room hotel where more than 35 residents from the  175-populated hamlet spoke about commercial intent, parking, height variance, separation from community and safe access on and off the Trans-Canada Highway as the hot topics.

Stoney Nakoda family recounts fond memories of their late brother. Cavin Poucette was shot dead by RCMP six days before his 27th birthday. "He wasn't bad like they portrayed him on the news – he wasn't like that at all," Kaylynne Poucette, Cavin's sister explained emotionally over the phone. "He was fun to be around, he was nice, he was respectful for whoever comes his way – he loved hunting, he liked to go fishing, he liked to go camping, he just liked the outdoors and doing things outside ... he was not bad.”

Stoney Nakoda appeals the McDougall Church restoration development permit on MD of Bighorn lands, citing the historic significance of the site is not being recognized from the viewpoint of the Stoney Nakoda people and only from the viewpoint of settler society, the Christian church and the McDougall Stoney Mission Society. Letters of concern of the restoration were sent to the province as early as March 2019.

Exshaw School teachers Kayla Dallyn and Genevieve Soler head to Ottawa to receive the Governor General’s Award for excellence in teaching history. 

During the Jan. 27 Banff council meeting, Stoney Nakoda officials question why the discovery of the bison skull wasn’t shared with the neighbouring Nation. The delegation to Banff council comes three months after the Siksika Nation announced it was the recipient of a 2,400-year-old bison skull found by Fortis Alberta last February during construction on Lynx Street in Banff.

After months of uncertainty, Canadian Rockies Public Schools and Stoney Education Authority announce on Jan. 30 that Indigenous Services Canada has agreed to continue funding Exshaw School under the current funding model over the next three years.

 

FEBRUARY 

The Bow Valley Waste Management Commission banks more than a $1 million surplus for the 2019 fiscal year.

Stoney Nakoda requests to appeal the water licence approval that allows the removal of 50 million litres of water from Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country. "It is important to be recognized in our own backyard," Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon said.

Mixed reaction arises at the McDougall Church appeal. The MD of Bighorn subdivision and development appeal board hears from Stoney Nakoda elders and residents as to whether the well-known white-painted church along Highway 1A should be restored or not. Elders speak up, saying there were a lot of things they were not aware of.

Flood mitigation projects in Bighorn face uncertainty after the Alberta Community Resilience Program is terminated, meaning no new funding would be available for flood projects.

Before going to the municipality to appeal the development permit, Stoney Nakoda reveal officials asked the province to remove the McDougall historic status. "Any historic recognition and designation must include reference to the painful legacy that for many Stoney Nakoda members is associated with the church," the appeal letter read.

SAEWA picks Newell County as the preferred site for the Energy from Waste facility.

 

MARCH

Alberta's environmental appeals board decides against hearing Stoney Nakoda Nation's appeal for the province to reconsider a water licence that allows the removal of water from Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country. The province dismisses the late appeal because it was outside the 30-day limit.

A decision quietly released on the province's website states Alberta will no longer groom cross-country ski trails in Kananaskis Country, including in Peter Lougheed, Mount Shark and the Kananaskis Village areas. The decision draws strong criticism from recreational and professional skiers, as well as Nordic ski clubs throughout the region.

The MD of Bighorn subdivision and development appeal board approves the McDougall Church restoration, which is listed as a community building, while the Nation waits to hear a decision on the provincial historic status. “There is no formal process for evaluating requests to rescind a Provincial Historic Resource designation," Danielle Murray, press secretary to the Office of the Minister of Cultural, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, wrote.

A Bighorn transportation study loses gas as the provincial government eliminates the Alberta Community Transit grant under the province’s Climate Leadership Plan in the 2020 budget.

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to sweep the province, the MD of Bighorn suspends all public meetings for 30 days while the Stoney Nakoda Nation declares a state of local emergency

 

APRIL

As the province continues to understand the new pandemic emerging in Alberta, Bighorn passes a new bylaw to comply with social distancing while also opting to waive late payment penalties during a special meeting. “Everything helps a little bit and this is a little bit – I’m hoping with the things inside my control and other things in other people's control, it can add up to be sufficient and meaningful,” MD Reeve Dene Cooper said.

While originally announcing no cases on the Stoney Nakoda Nation at the beginning of the month, by the end of the month Nation officials urge neighbours to stay home as three cases are discovered in Morley and positive active COVID-19 cases climb to 13 in Eden Valley. “This virus does not discriminate,” Nation CEO Ryan Robb said.

Alberta restricts vehicle access to provincial parks and recreation areas almost a week after pictures flood social media showing hundreds of vehicles lined up. “We understand the need to get outdoors, but now is not the time to visit our provincial parks and recreation areas without abiding by common-sense public health and safety measures,” Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said during a press conference. 

The Stoney Nakoda youth found guilty of aggravated assault and one count of discharging a firearm with intent, in relation to the 2017 shooting of German tourist Horst Stewin, is released from custody after serving 15 months behind bars. 

 

MAY

As the MD of Bighorn hosts its inaugural virtual council meeting, officials also join the chorus of asking visitors to stay home. “We are in a pandemic and as an MD, we are following directions as best we can in the emergency ordered by the province,” Reeve Dene Cooper said. “We encourage social distancing and staying at home as much as possible and we encourage people not to be unnecessarily on the road.”

Stoney Nakoda also goes back to zero active COVID-19 cases, while reminding neighbours not to trespass. “We just want to remind people that you can’t just come onto the Nation and go fishing or camping. We have signs at all 20 of our entrances … so just like our friends in Canmore and Banff, we are asking people to respect that it is private land and to not trespass,” Stoney Tribal Administration CEO Ryan Robb said.

 

JUNE

During the first week of June, several homes in East Exshaw are flooded with high groundwater levels. There is “fear, anger, shock and exhaustion” from residents in Exshaw, who scramble to save their homes and possessions. The rising groundwater level also creates havoc in the municipality's wastewater system, as Alberta Environment and Parks allows Bighorn to pump wastewater into the Bow River to keep it from backing up into residential basements.

As the flooding continues, several residents speak out with their frustration about the municipality amid flooding. “The plan is to get it all [contents of main floor] into the trailer – go get another trailer and fill it up. That’s as far as the plan goes right now,” said Ralph Anderson. Post-traumatic stress also begins to resurface as the community rallies together, setting up a volunteer tent with residents signing up for hourly shifts. 

At the same time, Bighorn officials hire a hydrogeologist to understand the groundwater flooding. “The volumes are receding, however, we would like to find out more about the effects of groundwater, obviously where it has come from and the effects of mitigation,” Bighorn CAO Rob Ellis said.  

Stoney Nakoda rescinds the state of local emergency, while the Outlook is also invited to witness a pilot project launch. The University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology partner with the Nation to test flying a Swiss drone to deliver viral live test swabs from rural/isolated areas to urban centres. The pilot project is the first of its kind of Canada.

After the MD of Bighorn approves the McDougall Church development permit, an appeal to the higher court to halt the development is dismissed by a Calgary judge who says the Stoney Nakoda First Nation did not establish how the Subdivision and Development Appeal erred in law. 

 

JULY

As Stoney Nakoda asks Alberta to remove the historic designation of the McDougall Church citing its “painful history,” the province remains unclear on where the request sits. In an emailed statement to the Outlook, the province says the church's historic resource designation is "not under review," but did not clarify if the request to remove the designation is still under evaluation, or was dismissed.

As the pandemic continues into its fourth month, the Chiniki band attempts to evict 67-year-old Stoney Nakoda elder Rhonda Kaquitts after cutting off the power to her home on June 25. The elder was left with no electricity or heat for at least two weeks. "I don't know why they want this house – what is it made of gold?" Kaquitts said.

Following the groundwater flooding, the MD of Bighorn applies to the provincial Disaster Recovery Program in the hopes of helping residents recover some uninsurable costs and damages caused by the incident. Officials also begin exploring providing municipal tax relief for those affected

It is a busy summer for the Kananaskis rescue team as they are maxed out with record-breaking calls. Officials say the high visitation and dramatic spike in calls stretched the rescue team to its limits, forcing them to bring on an additional Alpine helicopter and pilot, as well as a public safety specialist from Banff National Park.

 

AUGUST

A document released to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta association reveals the MD of Bighorn could lose up to $500,000 in its annual budget if proposed oil and gas tax breaks are approved by the UCP government. RMA officials warn if the proposals are approved, it would be on the backs of rural municipalities.

The Francis Cooke Landfill receives composting accreditation.

The MD of Bighorn extends and reallocates several grants that were already approved. The Benchlands Community Association cancelled its pancake breakfast for the first time in several decades, the Ghost Waiparous Trails Association asked for an additional four months to finalize the purchase of a cross-country skiing track setter and the McDougall Stoney Mission Society requested the $1,200 set aside for 2020 event programming be reallocated to the fall grand opening.

Locals take a stand against a peak with a racist name. For mountains and peaks in the Bow Valley, most have names given traditionally from surrounding Indigenous nations during a time before settlers moved to North America, while the more well-known names were brought over to Canada as the country was being colonized with dignitary names being assigned across the valley – and then there was Squaw’s Tit. A Bow Valley lawyer and Canmore mayor and council throw their support behind finding an official name.

Meanwhile west of Canmore, Stoney Nakoda officials commemorate untold history. Before Lake Louise received its well-known title, it was called Horâ Juthin Îmne, which translates into "lake of the little fishes." It is that history and acknowledgement Stoney Nakoda members share on Aug. 24 as pipe carriers, elders and Nation officials hold an inaugural Discovery Day ceremony on the lakefront to commemorate when Stoney guide Edwin Hunter brought European settler Tom Wilson to that exact spot on the same day in 1882.

 

SEPTEMBER

Stoney Nakoda makes another plea to the cultural minister to reconsider the McDougall Church historic status as the request sits in limbo. After more than half a year of attempting to appeal development permits, appeal decisions and asking the province to reconsider the historic status of the 142-year-old McDougall Memorial Church that sits along Highway 1A overlooking the Morley townsite, the three Stoney Nakoda Chiefs again ask the minister of culture to rescind the designation for the contentious restoration.

During the September long weekend, a wildfire in the Ghost wilderness area along the eastern edge of Banff National Park reaches out of control status as the blaze grows overnight to 346 hectares in size. Over the Labour Day long weekend, as many as four helicopters, an air tanker and 26 firefighters fight the blaze. It grows to 646 hectares in size, in part due to aerial ignition to conduct fuel modification to prevent the fire from expanding further. Later in the month, it is revealed the fire was caused by an abandoned campfire.

In the wake of the wildfire, Bighorn begins asking administration for an emergency evacuation procedure. "I think we have to realize that while we did not have a major route blocked by the fire this time, or we did not have any people or buildings involved in that fire this time, under similar conditions in a different place, that response to that fire could have become very complicated and very dangerous," Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper said during the September council meeting.

Stoney Nakoda riders embark on a week-long adventure into Panther Valley to study and document the cultural significance of reintroducing plains bison into Banff National Park. Humbling. Amazing. A spiritual awakening – are all words or phrases from Stoney Nakoda riders to describe the experience. 

Bighorn announces the groundwater flooding report, originally expected in August, is delayed, as the hydrogeologist needs more information.

While racist names are being addressed across the valley, Parks Canada quietly removes the offensive part of a trail name in Banff National Park. The records show the name changed online to Upper Stoney Trail by June, but it is unclear when the renaming took place as there was no announcement or statement released. Meanwhile, the trail sign for Stoney Squaw Summit and Jct. Lower Stoney Squaw remains in place until at least last August at the trailhead in Banff National Park. As of Sept. 15, there are stickers over the racist word. 

While the province focuses on the pandemic, locals in Stoney Nakoda organize a drug awareness walk and call on the chiefs to address the ongoing crisis on the Nation. "There is a drug crisis and we just keep losing people to these drugs. We want to bring awareness that people do care and we care," Summer Twoyoungmen, 23, from Stoney Nakoda said. "Chief and council need to do something about the problem we face.”

 

OCTOBER

Stoney Nakoda reactivates its Emergency Command Centre as two COVID-19 cases are confirmed in Morley. The first positive case is confirmed on Oct. 2 as a student in the high school who was last in attendance on Sept. 24, and the second positive case is at the elementary school, confirmed on Oct. 3. 

Almost a month after the Devil’s Head wildfire started due to an abandoned campfire, Bighorn declares a state of local emergency asking residents to prepare to evacuate. Less than two weeks later, the MD calls off the state of local emergency as the positive change in weather and fire conditions downgrade the status from out of control to being held.

In a report released by the provincial government, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency points to rainfall and snowmelt as causes of groundwater flooding in east Exshaw stating the Exshaw debris structure was “most likely” not the cause. The independent hydrogeologist report is delayed again.

Months after the provincial government quietly stated it would stop grooming Kananaskis Country trails, a one-year voluntary paid parking program is announced. Initiated by Nordiq Alberta, the pilot project will ask users to pay $10 per day or $50 for the season to cover cross-country ski grooming expenses at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Evan-Thomas Provincial Recreation Area, Spray Valley Provincial Park and Sheep River Provincial Park.

The provincial proposal that could have cost the MD of Bighorn up to $500,000 is put on the back burner while Alberta introduces new oil and gas exemptions. "I only need to be worried about certainties. Removing the four scenarios for the short term was the right thing to do and personally, I don't think any [scenarios] should ever be brought back," MD of Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper said.

 

NOVEMBER

Almost two years after the Nakoda Fire Department faced the unexpected departure of the fire chief and was down to one local firefighter, officials speak to the Outlook saying the department is in a much better place and pushing to become a full-time department. “When you have firefighters that are based here, we just care so much about the people and there is so much culture, which I think is huge,” said Colten Wildman, who at one point in 2019 was the only firefighter in the department. “I think we differ from other fire departments because we have such a strong cultural background here and our firefighters take a lot of pride in being from here and representing the Nation.”

The much-anticipated McElhanney Engineering hydrogeologist report into the groundwater flooding in Exshaw earlier in the year is officially presented to council. While council and the community are hoping the report will answer questions about how flood mitigation work in Exshaw Creek may have contributed to the flooding event, the report recommends additional data collection and modelling are needed to better understand the situation. The report, however, could not rule out that the flood infrastructure contributed to the situation, even though there was record snowmelt this year.

 

DECEMBER 

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin shares her family's history during the Second World War. One of her great great uncles was held at a prisoner of war camp in Kananaskis, while another great uncle fought for Canada in Normandy service as a scout on D-Day. 

The Cochrane RCMP partners with the Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Outreach to bring driver's education to Stoney Nakoda youth on the First Nation. 

Once again, motorists parking along the 1A Highway to access popular outdoor recreation spots cause concerns for officials in the MD of Bighorn. A motor vehicle collision occurs near Gap Lake after a motorist decides to make an illegal U-turn. Bighorn council votes to send a letter to Alberta Transportation and the RCMP to enforce the Highway Safety Act. 

The Stoney Nakoda First Nation receives the IAEM Canada National Prepared Community award for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cherith Mark, of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, is named to the board of governors of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity by the government of Alberta. 

 


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