BY CHRIS NELSON
CALGARY — A wry smile briefly crosses Lee Crowchild’s careworn face when the word “alienation” is mentioned.
He hears this particular word from so many lips these days in Alberta. It’s the place where he was born, so he understands well enough those long-standing strains and issues that exist between the province and Ottawa. However, today that age-old mistrust is blossoming anew, leading to murmurings of mutiny and separation.
Still, when it comes to alienation, Crowchild believes Indigenous people have a veritable stranglehold on what that really entails. After all, he is descended from a long line of native leaders on the western Prairies, reaching back to Alberta’s formative years as a province.
Crowchild was, until very recently, chief of the Tsuuut’ina, a First Nation of more than 2,000 residents who live in the eastern shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains and cheek by jowl to the ultra-modern city of Calgary. (He was still chief when he was interviewed for this story, having been elected in 2016, but lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 20th) Crowchild’s dad once held that same chief mantle, as did his grandfather, after whom one of the adjoining city’s major thoroughfares, Crowchild Trail, is respectfully named.
His perspective on the recent uprising of separatist fervour in the province — Wexit being its nametag on social media — remains guarded, being grounded in both history and culture.
“Today you hear talk about alienation. But this is how we have been living through the generations. So now you are crying to be heard? So yes, it is a bit amusing,” he says.
But such amusement quickly vanishes when he contemplates what might happen if Alberta did indeed try to separate from Canada, as an increasing number of people in the province are discussing.
This comes not from some heartfelt love his people feel for Ottawa: far from it. But Crowchild looks to history. The treaties in place with the Crown might not be perfect, but they have legal status. So, to disavow those, on the vague hope of something better? That is not an easy sell on the Tsuuut’ina reserve.
“This movement called Wexit, the Alberta one to leave Canada, is fine, but they’d have to leave the land behind and its resources as well. We didn’t sign those treaties to give them away. That is under the NRTA,” he says.
Crowchild refers to the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement, one in which Alberta has a constitutional obligation to transfer back to Canada any unoccupied Crown lands necessary to allow Canada to fulfill its treaty obligations with First Nations.
“No one ever talks to the First Nations about this. Some people now feel discriminated against by the federal government and they suppose they are talking on our behalf,” says Crowchild.
“They are not. We’re still invisible. Our frustration goes back a long way, to the time of colonization, that’s where our frustration started,” he adds…. READ MORE