Members of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation narrowly voted against a referendum on Feb. 15, which would have seen nearly 3,000 hectares of land re-zoned for commercial use.
While many Stoney members are relieved that the proposed land designation was rejected, Stoney Tribal Council said the move toward designating land for private development isn’t over and that a similar referendum will likely be brought forward in the future.
“It was pretty close, it could have gone either way,” said Chiniki Councillor Jordie Mark.
According to the final tally, 653 people voted ‘no’ counting for 53.7 per cent of the final vote, while 558 voted ‘yes.’ A total of 1,215 of 3,191 eligible voters from the Stoney Nation – Morley, Eden Valley and Big Horn — cast ballots. Four of the ballots were spoiled.
“At the end of the day we had to try,” said Mark, adding both Eden Valley and Big Horn voted in favour of referendum.
“It wasn’t a majority of members against it. The ‘no’ vote came out on top by about 100 votes.”
Despite the setback, he said the Stoney Tribal Council intends to hold a similar referendum in the future.
“There’s always room for improvement so we’re going to learn from this and like I’ve said in talking with some of the members, it’s going to keep coming back until it passes and that’s the bottom line.”
He said it’s too soon to say when another referendum would be held.
According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), which handled the counting process, if the Nation wants to hold another referendum it could do so as long as it follows Indian Referendum Regulations.
“Should the Nation wish to seek the approval of the membership (to re-designate the land) in the future, the process would have to be re-initiated again under the Indian Referendum Regulations,” said Stephanie Palma, a spokesperson with INAC.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Morley community members expressed wariness about approving the referendum. Concerns included lack of notice, uncertainty about how the land would be developed and worries the plan might not result in the potential revenues it promised.
“Until there is a plan of development in place, then my vote will always be ‘no,’ ” said Stoney member Kiana Daniels. “I think we should go back to the drawing board and have a plan in place instead of saying yes to a land designation when we don’t even know what’s going to go there.”
Daniels said during information sessions, INAC pointed to the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino as an example of successful land designation. However, Daniels countered that her community barely sees the benefits from the casino, where she worked for nearly three years.
“They told the people it was going to create jobs when really more than half of those workers over there are non-nation members. And there’s not even one manager there that’s First Nation,” she said.
“I think they should go back to the drawing board and come up with something better. I’m all about economic development for our people. But that’s just not the way to do it.”
Cochrane residents living in the community bordering the potential designated lands are also relieved.
Ellen Easton, a resident of Bow Ridge, which borders the west end of the Morley reserve where parcels of land were slated for designation, said she’s pleased the Stoney community voted no.
“It is their land, absolutely, and they are free to do what they wish with it. We don’t have any say in that at all. But I’m quite happy it isn’t going to be developed right now,” Easton said.
“One of the reasons we chose the location we did is because it’s undeveloped and because it backs onto reserve land and it’s quiet and peaceful.”