A scenic campground has become the scene of a simmering dispute between the Alberta government and a northern aboriginal band, whose leader says the camp is on their traditional land.
Members of the Cold Lake First Nation set up their own camp at the provincial campsite near English Bay on Friday (May 6), refusing a government directive to vacate the spot by 5 p.m., the Edmonton Journal reported.
“We’re not going to relinquish our access or our rights to this land,” said Chief Cecil Janvier, an hour after the province’s deadline had passed. “We’re going to voice our opposition to their proposed development . . . and if I have to park my truck in the middle of the road or whatever, I will do it.”
Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation spokesperson Camille Weleschuk said members of the First Nation had been asked to leave the site Friday and if they refused, the government would “discuss the next course of action.”
The English Bay Provincial Recreation Area is about 24 miles north of the Alberta city of Cold Lake along the border with Saskatchewan.
The campground has been there since the 1950s, but the government began working in 2006 to expand and significantly redevelop the modest site, planning to add campsites that would accommodate large RV units and power hookups, as well as a boat launch, playground, registration booth and new washrooms.
A government fact sheet says the planned redevelopment of the site is intended to meet demand for additional camping spots in the area.
The redevelopment was paused shortly after it began in 2006, after a number of historical artifacts were found in the area, some dating back more than 4,000 years.
The find led to a broader archeological study of the area and the campground redevelopment remained on hold until earlier this year, when Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation got approval to continue with the project.
But as the government prepares to start working on the site, it has become clear that Janvier’s people have other ideas.
He said he is staunchly opposed to any redevelopment of the site and has the strong support of the rest of the community. He said there were about a dozen people staying at the site on Friday night, and that the group will stay there as long as necessary.
He said the First Nation has also filed a lawsuit against the province.
Weleschuk said Alberta has worked in consultation with the First Nation for the past few years on the campsite redevelopment plan and is not clear about their concerns.
Janvier, who has been chief for about eight months, said he doesn’t believe the previous consultations were adequate, and the discussions between the two sides are far from over.
“Take your park somewhere else, that’s my stance,” he said.