Between March 23rd and 27th, vandals caused extensive damage to 25 Summer Cabins in a quiet little Golf Resort called Hidden Valley.
Normal operating procedure for this community of 305 cabins, situated on a 324 acre parcel of land leased from the Siksika First Nation, would be to repair or rebuild what the vandals destroyed. After all, the cabin owners have rebuilt twice in the past when the community was extensively flooded by the Bow River.
But this isn’t a normal year. It is the last year of the Resort’s lease. A small but vocal group of Siksika Nation Members have decided not to Redesignate these lands for use by non-nation members. By extension, they do not wish to renew the lease proposal that the Siksika Nation Chief and Council negotiated with the Cabin Owner’s Association.
In a Referendum this past December where 4167 Siksika Members were given the opportunity to vote on redesignation, 641 voted NO, while 269 voted YES. The remaining 78% of the population chose not to vote.
The Cabin Owners (some of them members of the Siksika Nation) were surprised and devastated by the ‘No’ vote. They have been paying the maintenance and improvement costs for the amenities – a 9 hole semi-private Golf Course, pro shop, restaurant, and man made lake – for the past 38 years. With green fees of just $20 a round, the golf course has attracted a loyal following of the Nation’s members and provides employment in a corner of the reserve where there are few jobs. In addition, the Resort pays an annual rights fee to the Nation in order to use the land for six months of the year.
They were equally surprised, but optimistic when Chief and Council passed a resolution that said they intended on holding another Referendum that would extend the existing lease for another 2-3 years so that the will of the entire Nation could be determined – a participatory democracy in action!
This action didn’t sit well with a small number of those who had voted NO. They had been celebrating the fact that the ‘colonists and their 300 years of lies‘ would be forced off of their land. They couldn’t understand how the cabin owners were suddenly back in the running. They did not seem to realize or accept that their Chief and Council had initiated the offer of a second Resolution.
It was at this point that a group of vandals decided to take matters into their own hands. It is hard to say what they expected to accomplish, or where their loyalties lie, but the damage was another blow to the Cabin Owners. They were also disheartened when they found out that Chief and Council were in no hurry to hold the next referendum – the proposed date would not give the cabin owners time to remove their cabins if the vote was NO again.
The whole thing is of interest to me because this Resort is where our extended family have cabins. It is a place where we have been gathering for over twenty years. We care about this land, and we care about what happens to the people – the ones who own the land, the ones who look after it, and the ones who use it.
The distance between the Cabin Owners and the Vote NO! dissenters cannot be measured. It is more than a failure in communication between partners; more than the mistrust the dissenters have of their Chief and Council. It is more than a dispute over who pays how much for what – and when. It is, in so many ways, the re-enactment of the settling of Canada, only this time some part of the First Nation feels like they have won.
It is sad to think what the rest of this First Nation will lose in the process.
UPDATE: A second Referendum was not held. The ‘last summer’ at Hidden Valley ended abruptly when the Bow River flooded the entire community in June 2013. Every home in Hidden Valley was destroyed completely.