Band members block road to Alta. reserve

Members of the Bearspaw First Nation have blocked the road to the southern Alberta reserve, protesting the delay of band elections.

Members of the Bearspaw First Nation have blocked the road to the southern Alberta reserve, protesting the delay of band elections.

Dozens of protesters blocked the road, hoisting signs demanding a band election. ((CBC))
The protesters are demanding a say in who leads their reserve, located west of Calgary.

"Us young people, we just want to our voices to be heard," said Tiffany Lefthand.

"I was raised by my grandparents and they taught me a traditional chief leads by example," said demonstrator Travis Jimmyjohn.

The blockade, aimed at preventing band administrators from getting onto the reserve, was sparked by a decision to suspend an election that was scheduled to take place in December.

Officials now say an election for a new chief and council will take place in December 2012.

"There was never a proper band meeting held and they never informed the people," said Myrna Powederface Stony.

Mandatory drug and alcohol tests

However, band leaders justify the move, saying a survey of the community in the spring supports their decision.

Leaders say on a reserve plagued by poverty and crime, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, they need two more years to fix the troubled community.

Chief David Bearspaw says elections must be suspended until the entire band leadership is clean and sober. ((CBC))
Chief David Bearspaw rejects critics who say the decision is undemocratic.

"I don't think I'm anti-democratic. I think we've conducted this comprehensive survey and I have to respect the wishes of the people, and the survey speaks volumes."

Bearspaw adds that in order to fix the problems on the reserve, the entire band leadership must be clean and sober. 

In a Canadian first, the reserve has imposed mandatory drug and alcohol testing for chief and council. 

"I feel it that has to start from the top," he said. "There has to be good leadership, good accountability, good role model."

While some native reserves have banned alcohol, it's unclear whether compulsory drug and alcohol testing will withstand a legal challenge.

"To discriminate against people for engaging in activities which other Canadians are entitled to do, seems to me quite a dangerous development," said Frances Widdowson, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Protesters vow to fight for election

Chief Bearspaw suspects some long-time band councillors have abused their power, pointing to one person who was paid nearly $300,000 — most of which was for travel and perks.

However, Bearspaw believes much of that money was spent on trips to drink and gamble.

"When I came in I was asking myself was that part of the job, or is that something that went off course?"

While some of the protesters agree drug and alcohol testing might be a good idea, they still want to have a say in a vote about any changes Chief Bearspaw makes.

The demonstrators have vowed to maintain the blockade until they get an election.