Anti-coal mining rally faces unexpected roadblock
CALGARY -- Following months of preparation, members of the Piikani 'Mountain Child Valley Society' (MVCS) were shocked to find out that there were new restrictions placed on their anti-coal mining rally at the last minute.
The rally, which began with a protest convoy from Crowsnest Lake to Brocket, was organized to bring awareness to mining in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Sixty cars, decorated with protest signs, left the Crowsnest Pass at 10 a.m. to spread their concern across Southern Alberta.
They were heading to the rally, which was set to begin at 11:30 a.m. in the river valley on Piikani Nation land.
However, rally organizer and chair of the MVCS, Adam North Peigan, was informed that only band members would be allowed to attend the rally.
"Our chief and council have imposed a media ban as well as a ban on any non-nation members being able to attend the rally," said North Peigan.
"It's unfortunate that chief and council have done that and it's really, really a sore spot in our leadership."
North Peigan had arranged for multiple non-nation members to speak at the rally including MLA's from Lethbridge and Edmonton, as well as anti-coal activist and country music star, Corb Lund.
After having to change the location prior to the event, North Peigan says he believes this was done because of the chief and council's support of the Grassy Mountain mine.
"I call out on Chief Stan Grier and members of council to get behind the members of Piikani Nation," he said.
"We are the true rights holder to this ancestral land that's looking to being desecrated by coal exploration in our ancestral land."
Piikani Nation elders were also present to speak towards their feelings on what is happening in the eastern slopes.
"I'm sad, the elders are sad," said Wilfred Yellow Wings Sr.
"The people that are gathering to support no mines are all here."
We spoke with Piikani Nation who said the decision to make the rally a band-only event was due to a concern for the health and safety of its members.
In a statement they said:
"The Piikani Nation has worked for over five years to be confident that the Grassy Mountain mine will pose a minimal risk to its lands, waters, culture and traditional way of life. Through agreement with the project proponent, it has created strict legal obligations for the mine to protect the environment and its sacred sites.
The Piikani Nation has not provided its consent to any other coal mine.
With respect to the protest planned on Piikani reserve lands, the Nation is only preventing off reserve members from entering the community to protect its members from the pandemic.
Any suggestion that the Piikani Nation is stopping members from voicing their opinions on Piikani decisions is categorically false.
The simple fact is that the Piikani Nation can't risk a COVID outbreak in its community. It has made considerable sacrifice and allocated significant resources over the last year to prevent outbreaks in the community and the devastation that the virus inflicted in other communities and the world."
Those who were not able to attend the event still took the time to express their concerns about mining exploration and what it means for the lands and water sources in Southern Alberta.
"Everyone is worried about access to water and giving away billions of liters of water to coal mining companies that are going to use it and potentially really abuse it for 10 to 12 years and a couple hundred jobs is just not worth it for the jobs we are putting at risk now," said Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West.
"We should be able to make a living off the landscape, trust the water that we drink and protect the wildlife, the traditional land uses and the communities that rely on this watershed."
MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar and NDP Environmental Critic Marlin Schmidt was also in attendance.
"We know that here in southern Alberta, we don't have enough water and that we need to keep the water that we do have clean, and the coal mines threaten both of those things."
Anti-coal activist, country music star and Lethbridge resident Corb Lund showed up as well express his opposition.
"I've looked into the coal issue a lot in the rockies here in Alberta, and I just think it's a terrible idea for lots of reasons," he said.
"For financial reasons and for safety reasons and for ecological reasons. It's a terrible idea."
The rally was still able to be seen and heard from the highway, with many Piikani band members in attendance to listen to the words of North Peigan on the shores of the Old Man River.
"We need to do what we need to do to protect mother earth now and for future generations."
Lund will be hosting another anti-coal event for media on June 16 at the foot of Cabin Ridge in the Mount Livingston Range to give people a close-up view of a proposed coal development zone and speak to the effect it will have on the families who live and work in the area.