Heather Polischuk, Leader-PostPublished: Sunday, September 28, 2008
REGINA -- Numerous members of Treaty Four brought Highway 1 traffic to a crawl and barricaded the road leading into the Waschuk Pipeline construction compound east of Regina on Sunday as part of province-wide -- and quite possibly Canada-wide -- protests.
In what they are terming "days of action," numerous bands and tribal councils across the province are taking part in or are in support of the protests, asking for a renewed relationship with the Crown in dealing with land issues. At the heart of this issue in Saskatchewan is the ongoing battle between First Nations groups and Enbridge Pipelines Inc.
"The boiling point, or the tipping of the scales, was some of the frustration that Chief Sheldon Wuttunee and the Red Pheasant First Nation had with their agreement with Enbridge Pipelines," said Treaty Four spokesman Edmund Bellegarde. "The pipeline is being expanded throughout this territory, throughout our territories and we feel that we're banding together with the Treaty Six First Nations and northwest Saskatchewan and we're taking the days of action here, so we are fully intending to be peaceful. We need to bring attention to our rights and our concerns that our elders have talked to us about and counselled us on our role as stewards of the land."
Treaty Four members erected a teepee at the T-intersection leading into the Waschuk Pipeline site on Sunday.
Troy Fleece, Leader-Post
Meanwhile, Standing Buffalo First Nation -- one of four bands without a treaty with the Crown -- hit a roadblock this summer when the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal refused to quash a decision allowing Enbridge to expand a pipeline into the Weyburn area. The band had argued the pipeline traversed traditional Dakota-Lakota land and that the band had not been consulted.
In Treaty Four territory, Sunday's days of action were centred on the Waschuk Pipeline construction compound, located just west of White City. At about 3:30 p.m., the Treaty Four members, led by about 15 members on horseback bearing two Treaty Four flags, began the windy trek east down Highway 1. RCMP was on hand to help deal with the traffic problems that resulted. Some disgruntled motorists responded to the blockage by cursing or waving middle fingers as they used a gravel road next to the highway to make their way around. Traffic was relatively back to normal within 20 to 30 minutes, as Treaty Four members set about erecting a teepee at the T-intersection leading into the Waschuk Pipeline site. Other than a man working security at the entrance, no one from Waschuk Pipeline was on site Sunday.
Officials from Waschuk Pipeline and Enbridge could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Traffic problems may or may not be at an end, with the protest expected to continue for some time.
"We're going to be 24/7 occupation here and we will remain as such until we believe we have some commitments ...," Bellegarde said. "We will take as long as is necessary to get the proper parties to the table, being the federal and provincial governments and the industry players ... We're hoping to keep the lines of communication open with all of the government agencies and law enforcement officials. We want to make sure that we're peaceful, peaceful in our actions and our activities and we want to insure that that is kept throughout the whole process here."
Bellegarde said a news conference is expected to be held in Treaty Six territory near Kerrobert on Monday with a similar goal to disrupt an Enbridge project there, and more sites will likely be selected in the coming weeks in other treaty areas. Not only is Saskatchewan to be affected, but Bellegarde said treaty territories in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario will also be taking part in the action. While the Enbridge projects are key in the Saskatchewan action, Bellegarde said the days of action are about more than that one issue.
"This is bigger than the pipeline project," he said. "It's symbolic of the government's honour and duty through the Supreme Court of Canada rulings in the last two decades. The issue is duty to consult and we feel that we haven't had the proper consultation in a meaningful way as the courts say is the law in this country ... We're not anti-development. We understand that there are issues and sometimes this is the type of action that it takes to bring the attention and bring the governments to the table and if it means that some of the work is interrupted in the short term, we feel it's necessary for the long-term issues to be addressed ... We feel as treaty people that our ties to the land, our treaties, all of the projects, all of the exploration, all of the activity that are going on in our treaty territories and our traditional lands are being left by the wayside."
-- With files from CanWest News Service