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Alberta

Prime minister signs historic land claim settlement with Alberta First Nation

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SIKSIKA, Alta. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the chief of a southern Alberta First Nation have signed a historic land-claim settlement which the federal government says is one of the largest of its kind in Canada.

Trudeau and Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, participated in a signing ceremony Thursday with Chief Ouray Crowfoot of Siksika First Nation, its council and community members 150 kilometres east of Calgary.

“We’re gathered today to right a wrong from the past,” Trudeau said during the ceremony held where the original treaty was signed 145 years ago.

“We’re gathered to give ourselves a chance to start rebuilding trust between us, nation to nation.”

The federal government said the settlement dates back more than a century to when Canada broke its Blackfoot Treaty promise and took almost half of Siksika’s reserve land, including some of its agricultural lands, to sell to people who settled in the area.

The agreement provides $1.3 billion in compensation to the First Nation to resolve outstanding land claims, which include about 46,500 hectares of Siksika’s reserve and certain mineral rights taken by Canada.

Miller drew applause when he addressed the crowd in Blackfoot in a speech that last nearly three minutes.

“We’ll see if I can do better in English,” Miller joked after he had finished.

“Today’s a new day. It’s time to move on.”

Trudeau said it’s important to move forward with Indigenous people as partners.

“This settlement will enable you to invest in your priorities like infrastructure, education and supports for elders and youth,” he said. “It will create new economic, social and cultural opportunities.”

Crowfoot said the settlement doesn’t make up for past wrongs, but it will make a difference in people’s lives.

“Canada needs to stop using the word reconciliation. You will never reconcile. You will never make it whole,” he said.

“This land claim — $1.3 billion, that’s a lot of money — it will never make it whole of what it was before. But we’ve got to move forward. What the $1.3 (billion) can do is provide opportunities, opportunities we didn’t have before.

“I do see the tide turning for Siksika … I see us becoming a thriving nation.”

Crowfoot said some of the money is to be spent on addressing issues that affect its members.

“We are the second-largest First Nation from a land perspective, yet we don’t have policing on the reserve,” he said. “We’re working to get our policing back.

“We are working through the residential school searches and mental health.”

The Siksika website indicates each member is also to receive $20,000 in July as part of the settlement.

In his initial speech during the signing ceremony, Crowfoot noted that he wasn’t sure yet if he considered Trudeau to be a friend.

He explained at a media availability later that he knows Miller has proven to be a friend of the Siksika people.

“I have about three friends that I consider close friends. This is the first time I’ve ever met the prime minister,” he said.

“How do we work on these relationships so I can call the prime minister a friend? I don’t call him an enemy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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