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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


Stoney Nakoda kicked off the year with a positive start as the three-band Nation united for the new Wesley Chief Clifford Poucette’s inauguration on Jan. 18.

“My personal vision is to work with Wesley and Chiniki and Bearspaw with unity and communication,” the newly elected chief said during his swearing-in speech. “Cooperation is the key to success – we are stronger when we work together.”

Officials acknowledged the challenges facing the Nation including education, intergenerational trauma, band financials and the meth crisis, but said one of the keys to moving forward was unity.

The Bearspaw Travel Centre announced it would officially be open by the end of the month. The 6,000-square-foot building includes a Tim Hortons and Esso gas station. Located beside the Stoney Nakoda Casino and Resort, the new site also includes a 1,200-square-foot mezzanine on the second floor, a gift shop and a private lounge area for truckers.

The MD of Bighorn made a decision on the redesign of the Dead Man’s Flats playground replacement. The original playground, west of Second Street, was destroyed by the 2013 flood and officials decided the replacement playground will be a natural playground design from Vilmac Systems, consisting of a bank slide and various wooden structures with netting.


Fortress Mountain Ski Resort announced it was eyeing a 2020 opening. After years of speculation, Fortress Mountain Ski Resort’s redevelopment efforts begun in earnest and officials said if everything goes according to plan the resort could open by December 2020. 

Bighorn announced the 16-year land-swap saga with Alberta Environment and Parks might be coming to a close after the municipality accepted a letter at the Feb. 12 council meeting that delineated the parcels of land that would be exchanged by the two parties. What started as a simple land-swap negotiation between the MD of Bighorn and AEP evolved into a controversial back-and-forth, with the MD eventually approving an area redevelopment plan for what was considered an environmentally sensitive area and a challenge by the Town of Canmore and the Municipal Government Board.


The Morley Community School hosted a celebration as Stoney Nakoda youth received 35 new mountain bikes through the PinkBike organization. Teachers and students spent the afternoon assembling the bikes before celebrating with a powwow and performance from the Rolling Stoneys. “It was fun,” Elias Labelle, 12, said. Riding a bicycle that he put together himself, the Stoney Nakoda pre-teen said this will be his very first bike. 

The Federal Government announced $13.7 million for debris flood mitigation along steep creeks in the Bow Valley, including Pigeon Creek in Dead Man's Flats. During the 2013 flood in the Bow Valley, the extreme rainfall and snowmelt resulted in significant debris floods in multiple steep creeks throughout the valley, causing millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, closing major transportation routes and damaging local residences.

Nearly two years after a devastating fire burnt the historic 142-year-old McDougall Church along Highway 1A east of Exshaw, the McDougall Stoney Mission Society announced they were hopeful the provincial government will approve plans to restore it. After the 2017 blaze, Alberta officials presented four options – leave as is; create what they call a "Ghost Church," a structural representation of the original church with no roof or walls; build a modern church; or restore. The society unanimously decided on the restoration project.

The Exhsaw Creek flood mitigation contract was awarded to Devcon Inc. on March 12. The Calgary-based contractor had the lowest overall bid for $5,167,836 (excluding GST). Initial estimates for the project was $10.6 million with major components including building a debris retention structure, channel excavation, construction of a sediment pond, weir and spillway, installation of channel armouring and installation of a pedestrian bridge.


Residents called for a long-term solution to fire response following the departure of Stoney Nakoda Fire Chief Jeff Beddome. After the departure of the fire chief, Exshaw Fire officials announced they would continue to assist with rural fire coverage and Cochrane Fire officials also released a press release stating that Cochrane remains a “mutual-aid partner.” 

Alberta Transportation announced partial funding for a second pedestrian bridge across Exshaw Creek. A big deal for the project as the structure was determined to be an important piece for residents despite not receiving any initial federal or provincial funding. Alberta Transportation announced the grant for up to $283,500, funded under the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program.

Stoney Nakoda elder Roland Rollinmud and university professors explored the history of Banff Indian Days at the annual Chiniki Lecture series. Reflecting on the past 130 years, Rollinmud said what started with a derailment that grew to an annual tourist attraction until the three-decade and a half hiatus in the 1970s. Held from the 1880s until 1978, Stoney Nakoda people were “welcomed” back to the park for a couple of days out of the year where they were allowed to celebrate their traditional cultural practices under strict guidelines, while also expected to open their teepees and pose with tourists. The Stoney Nakoda used their time as a way to challenge stereotypes, colonialism and assimilation, and since the reintroduction 14 years ago, Banff Indians Days has rebranded as a cultural celebration where different cultures can come together and learn.


The MD of Bighorn banked a $1.9 million surplus out of its 2018 budget. After making the decision to put the money in reserves, it was also noted in the May council meeting the MD council voted to keep the same residential and non-residential municipal residential property rates as 2018 and an emergency social services pilot was created. 

Stoney Nakoda celebrated the arrival of a new fire truck and the hope it brought to the Nation. Officials found a Hutterite colony outside of Brandon, Man. that hand builds fire trucks and made the decision to purchase one with full function and a standing fire canon. Colten Wildman, Nakoda Emergency Services firefighter said he thought it was a longtime coming and it was one big step to a long-term solution.

Stoney Tribal Administration consultant Bill Snow spoke about the cultural importance of the bison reintroduction to Banff National Park at the Whyte Museum. With roots in the Bow Valley dating back more than 10,000 years, bison used to live within mountain landscapes providing a source of food, clothing and shelter for Indigenous people in the area. 

The Nation also celebrated the opening of the new fitness centre in the Bearspaw Youth Centre, open to all Nation members, and the Bearspaw Travel Centre Grand Opening. Before the fitness centre opened, if Nation members wanted to utilize gym equipment, their closest options were Cochrane with fitness centres located more than 30 kilometres from the townsite, or fitness centres in Canmore, located more than 45 km from the Morley townsite. The fitness centre is opened Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4:15 p.m. 


Following Canmore instituting new morning parking restrictions, the MD of Bighorn found random campers in non-designated areas prompting the Reeve to discourage the individuals as it was bighorn sheep habitat. The province later announced it would be “monitoring” overnight camping at Gap Lake. “What the lawless people have to realize is the criminal and civil code apply [and] if you are breaking the laws on those lands, you are not free from being investigated and charged,” Coun. Erik Butters said.

The McDougall Stoney Mission Society had a busy month as the organization invited elders and Nation members for the inaugural teepee raising on the site in early June with some elders learning how to put a teepee up for the first time in a move that Gloria Snow called "true reconciliation." Later that month, the society was given the green light from the province to move forward with the restoration.

Exshaw firefighters learned they can breathe a little easier after MD of Bighorn council approved a new AirMation exhaust removal system purchase and installation. On June 11, the Exshaw Firehall Air Monitoring Report was presented to MD of Bighorn reeve and council with the recommendation to purchase and install the new equipment. 

At the same meeting, it was also announced the Good Food Box pilot, an affordable fresh food delivery program, would be coming to the MD. The decision to bring the program to the MD came after a survey released by the MD of Bighorn, Primary Care Network, Town of Banff, and ID9 for residents to assess the interest of expanding the Good Food Box program from Lake Louise to Kananaskis showed high interest. 

The Nakoda AV Club showcased and explored the cultural differences of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships with dogs, touching on difficult topics of conversation including non-Indigenous people stealing dogs from reserves. Living on a reservation that spans from the Cochrane town limits to Highway 1X, with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 nation members, they explained that dogs on the Nation live and roam free. “They don’t think about what’s going to happen, are they taking this dog from a home? They are traumatizing these dogs from what they live to [introducing] them into a cage environment, so we want to give an understanding to our surrounding neighbours on how we treat our dogs,”  Amber Twoyoungmen, Nakoda AV club member said.

For the first time in over a decade, new residential development was proposed by Exshaw Mountain Gateway Inc. for the hamlet at an open house for residents. The developers presented information on the proposed development's location, the preliminary subdivision layout, the development idea, proposed housing types, a list of background studies and local partners, and two ideas for discussion including solar generation and via ferrata, a protected climbing route with a steel cables running along a route that is fixed to a rock. Residents voiced concerns with one man saying they enjoy what they have in the hamlet and seeing the development designs made them “nervous.”


A public notice revealed Kananaskis water may be extracted and trucked to a bottling facility in Calgary. Fortress Mountain Holdings Ltd. filed an application to amend its provincial water licence to allow nine or more trucks per day to haul a maximum of 50,000 cubic metres of water a year from its licenced allotment of 98,679 cubic metres. The water was proposed to be taken from a tributary of Galatea Creek, which flows into the Kananaskis River before entering the Bow River. In order to amend its licence to remove the water, the ski resort had to make an application under Alberta's Water Act, which has a 30-day public notice period. Alberta Environment and Parks confirmed the application is to truck the water to a bottling facility in Calgary. 

The McDougall Stoney Mission Society moved forward with reconciliation work as they hosted a family game day on July 27. Before the fire, the McDougall Church was a well-known spot for photographers, a place for motorists along the 1A to take a break and was also used to host special events such as weddings and birthdays. But it was also a site that reminded some of the neighbouring Stoney Nakoda Nation members of the trauma and history tied to residential schools. Society president Brenda McQueen said rebuilding the site also required rebuilding relationships. 


Exshaw Mountain Gateway Inc. moved one step closer after the terms of reference were approved at the August MD of Bighorn council meeting. The terms of reference is the first step required for the developers to proceed with drafting an Area Structure Plan, which identifies a conceptual layout for general land uses, utility infrastructure, roads, public spaces and recreation. With that the first document is approved, the developer and landowner can collect the necessary pieces of information for the ASP, the next step in the process.

Stoney Nakoda celebrated the grand opening of the new Parent Link Centre on the First Nation. The second centre of its kind on a reserve in Alberta, the new centre offers early childhood development and care, parent education, family support, development screening, information and referrals and cultural celebrations. 

Organizers prepared for the return of Banff Indian Days on traditional lands. Focusing on the youth, organizers and elders said they want to pass along their traditions and cultural practices.


A new satellite RCMP station opened in Stoney Nakoda. In partnership with the Cochrane RCMP, the Cochrane and Area Victim Services and the nation station will now give residents the opportunity to give statements and have access to victim services programs in their own community. Before the opening of the satellite location, Stoney Nakoda residents would have to travel more than 30 kilometres to Cochrane or Canmore to report a crime or access victim services. Now the new station sits adjacent to the Chiniki gas bar, located off of the Trans-Canada Highway, only three kilometres south of the Morley townsite.

Survey says – the majority of Bighorn residents are satisfied. After more than 15 years without a customer satisfaction survey, the MD of Bighorn conducted one earlier this year from May to June with the results recently revealed at the September council meeting. Notable highlights included: more than 50 per cent of residents agreed or strongly agreed council is accessible, approximately 70 per cent agreed services are delivered in a timely fashion, more than 60 per cent thought the recreational opportunities and the level of emergency services provided in the MD are satisfactory.

Two Exshaw School educators were nominated for the 2019 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching after an innovative project engaged an entire community. Inspired by an exhibit at Banff's Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, educators had students work with elders and community members to research a hero from their pasts. The students eventually sculpted their heroes and the works of art they created were featured at artsPlace in Canmore as an exhibit for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Less than a week later, a change in the federal funding formula for Indigenous students led officials with the Canadian Rockies Public Schools to announce there would be a $1.6 million shortfall for the 2020-21 Exshaw School budget. According to CRPS, it received an email from the Department of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) indicating it was terminating a long-standing tuition agreement dating back to 1973 and that future funding for Indigenous students at the school would flow through the Stoney Education Authority. The CRPS board was presented with the options of working to find the funding to cover an anticipated shortfall; restructuring to become a local school for kindergarten to Grade 3 students or closing down completely. 


After 16 years, the MD of Bighorn council was happy to announce the official Dead Man's Flats land exchange between the municipality and the government of Alberta. The land swap meant the province took control of a five-hectare parcel adjacent to the G8 Legacy wildlife underpass near Dead Man's Flats, in addition to 3.4 hectares of wildlife habitat directly adjacent to the Bow River, considered to be a vital piece for wildlife connectivity. The MD, meanwhile, received 23 hectares of land east of Exshaw for potential business development opportunities.

The Feds announced they would be meeting the Canadian Rockies Public School board after a $1.6 million shortfall in the budget was realized following a funding formula change. Community members attended the monthly board meeting expressing concerns over the potential closure. “I was stunned at the front page … There’s been so many things; the artwork at artsPlace, and the little Grade 2 boy … he just published a book and the artwork was so wonderful … I was just stunned,” said volunteer Carol Huston.

Stoney Nakoda elders and Nation members shared knowledge of their traditional words at a rapid word collection event in an effort to preserve their language and culture. "It is very, very important because not too many of us are going to be around [and] if this hadn't been started, the recovery of the work ... it might have never been recovered because a lot of us, at that age, are going to pass on very quickly and we are losing our elders very fast,” elder Sykes Powderface said. Paid for through an Alberta Education government grant and in partnership with the Canadian Rockies Public Schools, the goal was to gather 10,000 to 15,000 words to create learning materials to be utilized with Stoney Education Authority and CRPS, such as language apps, level one textbooks and alphabet books.

The MD of Bighorn worked with the Town of Canmore towards an Intermunicipal Development Plan. Mandated by the Municipal Government Act, the 14-page draft document for Canmore and Bighorn set the policy framework for planning matters of mutual interest including but not limited to future land use, utility servicing, environmental matters and transportation corridors.

Stoney Nakoda hosted a round dance honouring Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It is an important issue in Stoney Nakoda, Eagle’s Nest Stoney Family Shelter community prevention worker Shaunna Pierro-Hunter said, as they are continuing to collect the names of women in the area who have gone missing, or have been murdered – estimating at least five or six families are tied to the crisis going back to the 1960s.

The Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA) shortlisted three potential sites for the proposed energy-from-waste facility. Originally 11 potential sites in six different municipalities were identified earlier this year, but after $400,000 in funding from the Alberta Community Partnership program was granted toward the organization to narrow down potential sites, the decision is now between Wheatland County, Vulcan County and the County of Newell.


A proposed wildlife overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Lac des Arcs came a step closer to reality after the government of Alberta allocated $20 million over four years for wildlife protection in the 2019 budget, which includes a wildlife overpass and associated fencing on a stretch of highway near the Highway 1X interchange.

In other highway-related news, the Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced $76.5 million has been earmarked in the Alberta budget for the widening of Highway 1A to create a safer roadway and promote Reconciliation. The highway was built in 1946 and has seen no significant upgrades since. The 29-kilometre stretch of Highway 1A that runs between Canmore and Cochrane through the First Nation will receive upgrades beginning in the spring of 2020. The project is expected to last two to three years. 

Fortress Ski Hill got approval to remove water from a creek in Kananaskis Country in order to transport it to a bottling facility in Calgary. In July, Fortress Mountain Holdings Ltd. confirmed in a public letter it had filed an application to amend its provincial water licence so it could remove water from the Galatea Creek, marketed for it’s "purity." The application would allow nine or more trucks per day to come in and remove the water. Alberta Environment and Parks said it reportedly received more than 200 statements of concern but said none who filed were “found to be valid.” 

The Exshaw flood mitigation project replaced the pedestrian bridge over Exshaw Creek, completing the majority of major components of the project. The new 37-metre pedestrian bridge, which more than doubled in length due to the widening of the creek, ended up costing approximately $500,000. And more development was proposed in the MD of Bighorn as developers hosted an open house in Harvie Heights showcasing plans for a Holiday Inn Express. Residents voiced concerns about the roadway access, as it would be off the only residential road access in the hamlet. The developer said they were open to changing the design. 


The saga of the $1.6 million funding shortfall for Exshaw School continued as Stoney Nakoda parents voiced their concern at the potential closure of the school. “I want my child to get the same education as everyone else in the country, the same opportunities and be able to excel, so I don’t agree with this whole thing. I hope that this works out, that we can figure out a plan, come up with something to have the school remain open,” said Mika Snow, who has a daughter enrolled in Grade 4. There are only two students who attend Exshaw School who are not from Stoney Nakoda and many of those students go on to CRPS high schools to graduate.

Two weeks later, the Canadian Rockies Public School division says the federal government agreed to maintain the Exshaw School's current funding formula for one more year but that it was not enough. Government officials said they disagreed with the funding shortfall numbers and it was simply a change of administration. 

Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon was re-elected for his third term. Dixon gained almost 70 per cent of the vote with approximately 70 per cent of the eligible population voting. 

Alberta RCMP released forensic facial reconstruction images of unidentified remains found in the province over the past 40 years, including a case from Kananaskis Country. The remains found in Kananaskis Country belonged to a man, who was last seen alive between August 2008 and August 2013 with the remains found in September that year in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Officials said they are hopeful the images will assist in the investigations and brings closure to some families.

Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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