Bigstone Cree Nation monitor traffic entering community in dispute with oil companies

Bigstone Cree Nation monitor traffic entering community in dispute with oil companies

The Bigstone Cree Nation has set a toll station on the highway into community of Wabasca-Desmarais in an effort to control entry.

The First Nation is calling the station a "stand," meant only to monitor who is going in and out.

RCMP spokesperson Jack Poitras confirmed to CBC News the toll station was up Monday morning.

"The Bigstone Cree Nation is doing a demonstration ... basically to ask to check in vehicles coming in and out," Poitras said Wednesday.

"They have some questions that they would like answered as to who's working out here."

The Bigstone Cree are upset with oil and gas companies it believes are ignoring local businesses by busing workers in, and avoiding meaningful conversation with the First Nation, as well as concerns around water protection.

"Our own local people are just as good as anybody," said Chief Gordon Auger. "We like to earn what we get, but if nobody gives us a chance, does it work?"

The threat to install gates on Highway 754/813 was introduced in a formal letter to Richard Feehan, minister of Indigenous Relations, on Feb. 20. 

The Bigstone Cree Nation, about 320 kilometres north of Edmonton, now describe the gates as a stand or toll station.

Vehicles turned away

Despite telling CBC News on the weekend he didn`t know when the station would go up, Auger said Wednesday it planned to up Monday all along.

He also said they would not be turning any vehicles away, but according to RCMP they were turning people away.

"We heard that there was about 15 vehicles turned away originally," Poitras said. "But then we came up and we were advised that that wasn't supposed to be happening and it stopped."

While traffic is being let through, vehicles are still required to stop at the checkpoint.

Indigenous Affairs spokesperson Kyle Ferguson said in an email Wednesday that the Alberta government continues to speak with the Bigstone Cree Nation over the issues.

"The Alberta government is aware of traffic disruptions near Bigstone Cree Nation and is working diligently with Bigstone chief and council to resolve the issue promptly," Ferguson said.

"We will do this peacefully and promptly through open dialogue and building relationships."

Ferguson also said a third party has been enlisted to help facilitate negotiations between the government and Bigstone Cree Nation.

Work sites accessible

Sonja Franklin, a spokesperson for Cenovus, one of the companies that was initially supposed to be banned, said in an email Wednesday the company is having no issue accessing their site.

"We respect the Bigstone Cree Nation's right to peaceful and lawful protest," Franklin said. "We have open lines of communication with the community and will continue to keep in contact with them."

Auger said he's optimistic about the conversations he's had with the government. "The Indigenous minister has been very helpful," he said. "It's not to the great success, but at least we're talking."

The RCMP said it will maintain a presence at the scene until the station is removed.

Auger said the toll will be up for at least another week.

"Nobody cares if we don't make a move," he said. "If this is the only way it's going to bring people together, so be it."