A 12-kilometre stretch of the southwest ring road opened Thursday, marking a major milestone in the massive infrastructure project that will eventually encircle much of Calgary, but the celebration and smiles were interrupted by a man whose family lost their land.
The stretch of freeway, named Tsuut'ina Trail, travels through the namesake First Nation between Fish Creek Boulevard and Sarcee Trail.
Premier Jason Kenney, Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Tsuut'ina Chief Roy Whitney and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took turns at the microphone to celebrate the opening of the stretch of road and the economic benefits it will bring.
"This fits in quite nicely with the broader vision of using tax dollars for getting people back to work right now," said Kenney of the $1.4-billion segment of freeway.
The Tsuut'ina have invested heavily to take advantage of the road, building out new developments, including a Costco that anchors a major commercial project known as Taza.
Whitney said approving the road through his nation was a difficult one, but it was made thinking of the next generations and an "opportunity to move forward."
Not all shared that view, however.
'Today is not a good day'
The photo-ops were interrupted by Seth Cardinal Dodginghorse, who took to the podium to express his anger at the roadway and share his family's story.
He was allowed to talk at length.
- Watch his full statement in the video below
"Today is not a good day," he said. "I woke up this morning to see my mother crying when she heard the news that this road was going to be opening."
Dodginghorse said his family lived in the middle of where the road now lies, that he knew the trails and the trees that are now replaced by asphalt. He said his family was ignored by the nation and not given support.
"You can't build prosperity and you can't build relationships when you erase the women who came from this land," he said.
'Not the time or place'
Dodginghorse said he would work to make sure his family's story wasn't forgotten and urged those gathered to listen.
He then cut off one braid of his long hair and then the other.
"With this, I leave a piece of me with the road," said Dodginghorse. "Thank you for allowing me to share my story."
When asked about what Dodginghorse had to say, a visibly upset Whitney said almost 80 per cent of the nation voted in favour of the deal.
"It was a community decision, and as our elders would say — and I'm an elder now so I can say it — there is a time and place for this and this is not the time or place."
McIver said it's expected the rest of the southwest ring road will open next year.