By Dale Woodard on June 15, 2021.
A convoy of cars hit Highway 3 over the weekend to protest coal exploration and the Grassy Mountain Coal Mining project.
Hosted by the Piikani Mountain Child Valley Society â€” who have spent the past five months raising awareness about concerns over the impacts of coal mining on the environment in Piikani ancestral lands â€” began at Crowsnest Lake and proceeded to Brocket for a rally featuring the likes of Piikani Nation Members, MLA Marlin Schmidt, Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips and country music artist Corb Lund, who was slated to perform.
However, there was a detour of sorts.
When the convoy arrived at Piikani First Nation, Adam North Peigan, chairman of the Mountain Child Valley Society with Piikani First Nation, was told a blockade had been set up to the rally in the river bottom, allowing band members only.
“At the height of the convoy there were about 60 vehicles and they started off this morning from Crowsnest Lake in the Crowsnest Pass and travelled all along Highway 3 going east into the Piikani Nation. It was our intent that we were going to take the rally for a peaceful demonstration down into the river bottom of the Oldman River, which is part of the Piikani Nation,” said North Peigan on Saturday. “But what we’re finding is our chief and council have imposed a media ban as well as a ban from any non-nation members being able to attend the rally because they actually support the coal mining. But the vast majority of nation members do not support any coal mining whatsoever. It’s unfortunate the chief and council have done that and it’s a sore spot in our leadership. I call out on chief Stan Grier and members of council to get behind the members of Piikani Nation. We are the true rights holders to this ancestral land that is looking at being desecrated by coal exploration in our traditional land.
“We, the members of Piikani Nation, are very resilient and very passionate about protecting Mother Earth. We need to do what we need to do to protect Mother Earth now and for future generations.”
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for limiting the rally to band members only, Piikani Nation released a statement Saturday afternoon.
“The Piikani Nation has worked for over five years to be confident that the Grassy Mountain Mine will pose minimal risk to its lands, waters, culture and traditional way of life. Through agreement with the project proponent it has created strict legal obligations for the mine to protect the environment and its sacred sites. The Piikani Nation has not provided its consent to any other coal mine,” read the statement. “With respect to the protest planned on Piikani reserve lands, the Nation is only preventing off-reserve members from entering the community to protect its members from the pandemic. Any suggestion that the Piikani Nation is stopping members from voicing their opinions on Piikani decisions is categorically false.
“The simple fact is that the Piikani Nation can’t risk a COVID outbreak in its community. It has made considerable sacrifice and allocated significant resources over the last year to prevent outbreaks in the community and the devastation that the virus inflicted in other communities around the world.”
Though the ban kept the likes of Phillips, Lund and Schmidt from attending the rally, the three nonetheless attended Saturday’s rally to lend their voices to the cause as a few vehicles passed by honking in support while speeches at the rally could be heard in the distance.
“There is no question that Albertans have spoken very loudly and very clearly,” said Phillips. “People of all backgrounds all across Alberta (have said) they are opposed to opening up our mountains that have been protected for 44 years to open pit coal mining. There is no question, too, that a lot of that voice has come from indigenous communities through applications for traditional reviews and through outright making their voices heard. There is no question that is the case through southern Alberta and that’s what we’re seeing here today.”
Phillips said the biggest concern she has heard in regards to coal exploration is the access to water.
“The biggest thing is whether it’s this community here at Piikani who have a specific water agreement or whether it’s folks up above the dam or the irrigation districts or the farmers and crop producers or the agricultural researchers all the way through southern Alberta and into Saskatchewan and Manitoba, everyone is worried about access to water and giving away billions of litres of water to coal mining companies who are going to use it and potentially abuse it for, what, 10 to 12 years and a couple hundred jobs? It’s just not worth it for the jobs we are putting at risk now.
“That’s to say nothing of the wildlife and the fish that are at risk, all of the other reasons we really wouldn’t be interested in poisoning our watershed and putting our lives at risk.”
Lund said he’s spent time looking into the coal issue in the Rockies.
“For financial reasons, safety reasons and ecological reasons it’s a terrible idea,” he said.
In regards to Saturday’s blockade that kept out non-band members, Lund said he respects the authority not to enter the land.
“But I know there are Piikani people who are against the coal mines and there are Kainai groups against the coal mines as well and there are lot of people across the board in Alberta, whether it’s First Nations people, urban people or rural people, who are dead set against the coal mines. There has been all kinds of polling on this and it’s the vast majority of Albertans who don’t want coal mines in the Rockies.”
Lund said he understands there are a few jobs to be had with the coal mines.
“But you weight that against the tourism jobs and the agriculture jobs that are going to be lost and the potential cost of cleaning up the mess after the coal companies are long gone, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Schmidt, who is also the environment critic for the official opposition in Alberta, said it’s important for him to show his support for the people in Piikani and their protest against the coal mines in protection of the Old Man River.
“I’ve heard from tens of thousands of people all across the province who don’t want these projects to go ahead and want our headwaters protected,” he said. “I think it’s important to show the people here that we have people from all over the province of Alberta who are behind them.”
Schmidt said Albertans are raising their voices in different ways, and keeping him busy in the process.
“We have protests here and we have protests at the legislature and my phone is ringing off the hook. I can’t keep up with the number of emails that come into my office. You drive down here and you see signs like this in every field along the highway. I’ve never seen anything like this before and it’s really heartening to see people have taken the power in their own hands and said ‘No’ to these kinds of projects.”
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