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The year in Stoney Nakoda

Looking back on the stories that dominated Cochrane in 2020.


A Stoney Nakoda had a rough start to the year as the community mourned the loss of mother, sister, aunt, friend Iliena Wildman. "She was a very kind, loving person who had an impact on anybody she met and she welcomed everybody with an open heart into her life," her brother Daniel Wildman said emotionally over the phone in an interview. A mother to five children, Iliena died on Jan. 3 after being struck by a vehicle in the Morley townsite.

Stoney Nakoda family recounted fond memories of their late brother. Calvin Poucette was shot dead by RCMP six days before his 27th birthday. "He wasn't bad like they portrayed him on the news— He wasn't like that at all," Kaylynne Poucette, Cavin's sister explained emotionally over the phone. "He was fun to be around, he was nice, he was respectful for whoever comes his way— He loved hunting, he liked to go fishing, he liked to go camping, he just liked the outdoors and doing things outside ... He was not bad.”

Stoney Nakoda appealed the McDougall Church restoration development permit on MD of Bighorn lands, citing the historic significance of the site was not being recognized from the viewpoint of the Stoney Nakoda people and only from the viewpoint of settler society, the Christian church and the McDougall Stoney Mission Society. Letters of concern of the restoration were sent to the province as early as March 2019.


Stoney Nakoda requested to appeal the water licence that allows the removal of 50 million litres of water from Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country. 

Mixed reaction arose at the McDougall Church appeal. The MD of Bighorn subdivision and development appeal board heard from Stoney Nakoda elders and residents as to whether the well-known white-painted church along Highway 1A should be restored or not.  Before going to the municipality to appeal the development permit, Stoney Nakoda revealed officials asked the province to remove the McDougall historic status. "Any historic recognition and designation must include a reference to the painful legacy that for many Stoney Nakoda members is associated with the church," the appeal letter read.


Alberta's environmental appeals board decided against hearing Stoney Nakoda Nation's appeal for the province to reconsider a water licence that allows the removal of water from Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country. The province dismissed the late appeal because it was outside the 30-day limit.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the province, the MD of Bighorn suspended all public meetings for 30 days while the Stoney Nakoda Nation declared a local state of emergency. 


While originally announcing no COVID-19 cases on the Stoney Nakoda Nation at the beginning of the month, by the end of April Nation officials urged neighbours to stay home as three cases were discovered in Morley and Eden Valley positive active COVID-19.

The Stoney Nakoda youth found guilty of aggravated assault and one count of discharging a firearm with intent, in relation to the 2017 shooting of German tourist Horst Stewin, was released from custody after serving 15 months behind bars. 


Stoney Nakoda returned to zero active COVID-19 cases, while reminding neighbours not to trespass. “We just want to remind people that you can’t just come onto the Nation and go fishing or camping. We have signs at all 20 of our entrances … so just like our friends in Canmore and Banff, we are asking people to respect that it is private land and to not trespass,” Stoney Tribal Administration CEO Ryan Robb said.


Stoney Nakoda rescinded the local state of emergency, while playing host to a pilot project launch. The University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology partnered with the Nation to test flying a Swiss drone to deliver viral live test swabs from rural/isolated areas to urban centres. The pilot project was the first of its kind in Canada.

After the MD of Bighorn approved the McDougall Church development permit, an appeal to the higher court to halt the development was dismissed by a Calgary judge who said Stoney Nakoda did not establish how the Subdivision and Development Appeal erred in law. 


Stoney Nakoda asked Alberta to remove the historic designation of the McDougall Church citing its “painful history," the province remained unclear on where the request sat.The province said the church's historic resource designation is "not under review," but did not clarify if the request to remove the designation was still under evaluation, or was dismissed.

As the pandemic continued into its fourth month, the Chiniki band attempted to evict 67-year-old Stoney Nakoda elder Rhonda Kaquitts after cutting off the power to her home on June 25. The elder was left with no electricity or heat for at least two weeks. "I don't know why they want this house- what is it made of gold?" Kaquitts said.


Stoney Education Authority announced it would be implementing the government’s second scenario for the return to schools in the fall. The planned return to school included partially resumed in-person classes with additional health measures.


Stoney Nakoda made another plea to the cultural minister to reconsider the McDougall Church's historic status as the request sat in limbo. After more than half a year of attempting to appeal development permits, appeal decisions and asking the province to reconsider the historic status of the 142-year-old McDougall Memorial Church that sits along Highway 1A overlooking the Morley townsite, the three Stoney Nakoda Chiefs again asked the minister of culture to rescind the designation for the contentious restoration.

Stoney Nakoda riders embarked on a week-long adventure into Panther Valley to study and document the cultural significance of reintroducing plains bison into Banff National Park.

While the province focused on the pandemic, locals in Stoney Nakoda organized a drug awareness walk and called on the Chiefs to address the ongoing crisis on the Nation. The Addictions Awareness Walk took place on Saturday (Sept. 26) beginning at the Chiniki gas station parking lot with a prayer from an elder and will then worked its way down to the Stoney Tribal Administration building parking lot.

A historic agreement struck in the name of Reconciliation took place in Tsuut'ina Nation on Oct. 2. Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson, Bearspaw First Nation Chief Darcy Dixon, Chiniki First Nation Chief Aaron Young, Wesley First Nation Chief Clifford Poucette and Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Roy Whitney were on hand for the signing of the protocol. The Alberta-Stoney Nakoda-Tsuut’ina Tribal Council Protocol Agreement serves to outline the formal process for ministers and chiefs and councils to meet several times throughout the year to address key priority areas that include health, economic growth, education, family services and housing on Nations.


Stoney Nakoda reactivated its Emergency Command Centre as two COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Morley. The first positive case was confirmed on Oct. 2 as a student in the high school who was last in attendance on Sept. 24, and the second positive case at the elementary school was confirmed on Oct. 3. 


Almost two years after the Nakoda Fire department faced the unexpected departure of the Fire Chief and was down to one local firefighter, officials said the department was in a much better place and pushing to become a full-time department. 

Stoney Nakoda Emergency Management director Mike Crawford, Bearspaw First Nation Chief Darcy Dixon, Chiniki First Nation Chief Aaron Young and Wesley First Nation Chief Clifford Poucette were on hand to receive the IAEM Canada National Prepared Community award for Pandemic Preparedness and Response on Nov. 13. The award was in recognition of the Nation’s preparedness and the precautions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was made all the more special as it marks the first time a First Nation community has received the award.


Chief Aaron Young was re-elected as leader of the Chiniki Nation, along with councillors Boyd Wesley, Verna Powderface, Jordie Mark and Charles Mark.

The RCMP announced a new detachment would be opening in Stoney Nakoda First Nation. The project has been in the works for the past year, said Cochrane RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff, and the Stoney Nakoda detachment will see a culmination of RCMP members from Kananaskis and Cochrane meld to create a semi-autonomous centre on Jan. 4. Initially, the Stoney Nakoda detachment will have eight regular constables and two Non-Commissioned Officers to run the management side of the centre. 

Cochrane RCMP teamed up with Stoney Nakoda First Nation to help students prepare to take their learner's licence driving exam. The RCMP partnered with the Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program and Mini Thni Crisis Support to bring the driver's education program to the Nation and support community members in getting their learner's licences. They hosted four small classes to adhere to COVID-19 public health regulations. They incorporated Zoom into classes to help ensure they were accessible to anyone interested. During the classes, they covered the driver's handbook “cover to cover” and conducted practice tests to help students prepare for taking their driver's education exams.

Cherith Mark, of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, is named to the board of governors of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity by the government of Alberta.