Tsuu T'ina ponder land exchange in S.W. ring road proposal

Members of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation are learning about the details of a tentative deal with the province on the proposed southwest Calgary ring road before a referendum at the end of the month.

Members of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation are learning the details of a tentative deal with the province on the proposed southwest Calgary ring road before a referendum at the end of the month.

CBC News has learned that the proposal would see the First Nation transfer 400 hectares of land, where the ring road will be built, to the province in exchange for $240 million and 2,000 hectares of Crown land on the northwest border of the reserve stretching west to the edge of Kananskis Country.

There could be additional costs of  $20 million to $35 million to compensate homeowners displaced by the road and also to compensate the Municipal District of Rockyview for lost lease land, said band member Hal Eagletail, who is working as a correspondent on the issue for CBC News.

A map showing Calgary's ring road plans. The light blue trail is the proposed southwest portion. ((City of Calgary))

The tentative deal was reached in March after decades of stops and starts in negotiations with the province. Negotiations were complicated because the stretch of land at issue is considered sacred and some of it contains burial grounds.

The southwest portion, which will run about 20 kilometres, is planned to start at an interchange at Sarcee Trail, Highway 8 and Glenmore Trial. The City of Calgary wants to see the road run though the First Nation's land from Glenmore Trail to 22X on the western edge of Calgary.

About 900 band members out of 1,500 residents are eligible to vote in the referendum on June 30 that could change life on the reserve, and commuting in Calgary.

The band is holding nine workshops to explain the proposal, beginning with a session for elders last week. Band members can also make an appointment at the band office and at a lawyer's office in downtown Calgary to view all documents related to the deal.

"So we're making every effort to ensure that nation members get full information so that [there is a] fully informed vote," said Peter Manywounds, head of economic development and special projects for the band.

Half the population of the reserve is under the age of 25, and they could benefit from the economic development of the road, as well as leasing out reserve land along the ring road to chain stores and hotels.

Levon Eagletail, 27, likes the sounds of those opportunities. "I'd like to see the deal be done, and I think regardless of we vote yes or no, I think this road is going to go through anyway, so I think we might as well benefit from it now rather than 20, 30 years down the road," he said.

Disagreement on band council

Hal Eagletail said many elders oppose giving away any land, and there is also disagreement on band council.

Chief Sandford Bigplume, who helped negotiate the deal, supports it because he feels it will give a strong economic foundation for future generations of Tsuu T'ina.

But band councillor Leroy McGuiness said there are more pressing problems on the reserve. He also advocates that the band should be part of a partnership in developing the road.

"There are a lot of issues that people are not seeing, you know, the gangs, the drugs and all that," he said, suggesting community meetings should be held first to ask people what direction they want to go in.

"And then start a P3, try to go that route, so we have say in the future, [so] our kids, our great grandkids have a say, 20, 50, 60 years from now. But if we do this road now, we won't have a say ever."

In 2000, the province turned down the band's plan to build the road as a P3, or public-private partnership, in favour of an open tendering process.

'We don't need the road; it's the city that does'

But band member Dan Crane opposes the proposal, believing that the future lies in holding onto the reserve land, and not in developing it.

"I mean we don't need the road; it's the city that does," he said. "The future is the land, and having a land base and I think that if we proceed with the deal, we're just piecing off the land.

"They say it's a land exchange and I don't think it's been a fair market value. You go to Elbow Valley, on the north side of the reserve and a section there is like you know, millions of dollars and we're talking thousands of acres here."

A high school student on the reserve has also started a Facebook group called "Vote No for the Ring Road."

An attempt by CBC News to obtain details of the tentative deal under a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request was denied. Jerry Bellikka, a spokesman for the Alberta transportation department, said they cannot talk about the deal until after the referendum.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said Monday that he thinks it's a good deal, but he finds it hard to believe the province will keep protecting a secret deal that's no longer a secret.

"It doesn't make much sense. I think we want a more accountable, open, transparent government in Alberta and we have to keep demanding that. This is not acceptable for most Albertans."