WATCH ABOVE: A deadly collision on Highway 1 near Morley Monday forced lengthy delays, and as Jill Croteau reports, some re-routed travelers ended up facing even more road blocks.
CALGARY – A horrific crash between a minivan and a semi-trailer truck Monday afternoon claimed the life of an elderly woman and sent multiple people to hospital. The crash also closed the eastbound lanes of Highway 1 for more than eight hours, causing traffic delays for many commuters.
As drivers scrambled to get around the backed up traffic, some tried to take a shortcut through the Morley reserve, which is private land. Some drivers say they were confronted with blockades at several access points off of the highway.
“We saw the private property signs and knew it would have been a privilege and not our right to have gone across their land,” said Cori van Keulen, who tried to take the shortcut. “But they did have the opportunity to help get all this traffic moving—people who didn’t know where they were going, who didn’t know where the next main entrance onto Highway 1A was.”
Crystal Buhay said she was also faced with a blockade, and sent in video showing a confrontation where she was told she was trespassing on the Stoney Indian Reserve (watch part of the video above). Buhay said she felt intimidated and said she was asked to pay $20 to get through.
“There’s got to be some type of illegal activity going on there,” said Buhay. “Trespassing unless we collect money? I’ve never seen that so something is up with that.”
Stoney Nakoda First Nation Tribal Administrator Ken Christensen told Global News Wednesday a major paving construction project that started in June has caused people to illegally drive onto reserve roads frequently over the past few months.
“The chief and councillors and administrators here have received numerous complaints about dust, noise, people concerned about livestock, dogs, even children. These are residential roads and…even when we don’t have a paving project, we get people coming here: they dump off dogs, dump off vehicles, garbage, old refrigerators,” said Christensen. “They come hunting on the reserve illegally.”
Christensen said the administration has tried to talk to Alberta Transportation about the paving on the Trans-Canada, asking to have the contractor provide “flag-men to prevent people from illegally coming on the reserve.”
“They were basically non-responsive,” he said.
Christensen said the Stoneys are very patient, tolerant people, but that frustration from traffic coming onto the reserve has been building.
“The roads people are traveling on here are gravel roads and not to the same standards as provincial roads, because we don’t have the funds for that. When we get a large amount of traffic, it damages the roads, which we have to repair.”
He said he understood that other drivers were also frustrated with the backed up traffic from Monday’s crash, but those people “shouldn’t come on the reserve to save themselves 15 minutes.”
Lethbridge University assistant professor of native studies Don McIntyre said he believes the important part of the situation is that RCMP said the road is private property.
“My work is to look at that idea, and what is the right of an individual and what are the responsibilities?” he said. “One of the responsibilities we have is when a big sign says ‘no trespassing,’ we don’t trespass; we think that goes without saying. And then we had suddenly hundreds of people that wanted to ignore it. So one of the big questions I have is: why did you think it was okay to not see the sign anymore?”
Christensen said none of the chiefs or anyone in the administration had directed people to charge tolls, and that he learned of the tolls through the media.
“I doubt if anybody was threatened,” he said. “People could’ve stayed on the TransCanada and followed proper detours. You decide because you have to wait that you can cut through private property illegally? It just doesn’t wash.”
Note: This story was originally published Aug. 25 but has been updated with comment from Stoney First Nation administration.