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Lone Fighters divert Oldman


Jackie Red Crow & Dana Wagg Windspeaker Writers, Peigan Nation Alta.







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Having diverted the Oldman River to its original creek bed, some Peigan nation members are now settling their sights on halting construction of the $350-million Oldman River Dam.

On Tuesday at 8:45 p.m. a Caterpillar at work in the northern area of the Peigan reserve scooped up a bucket of dirt to remove the last barrier between the river and the creek. Water started to trickle in weeks ahead of provincial predictions as Peigan Lone Fighters looked on.

The dam is not "rendered useless," said band councilor Leander Stikes With A Gun, and observer at the Lone Fighter's camp. He said he wasn't concerned about an angry reaction from farmers dependent on the water of the Oldman River. "Half the farmers are on our side."

"They (the provincial government) have to stop working at the dam before we let it go back," he said.

"The issue here is the dam. It's flooding burial grounds and some traditional areas," said Strikes With A Gun , who maintained the Lone Fighters weren't doing anything illegal.

"It's on band land. What can they charge us with? But they might fabricate a law," he said in an interview.

Ironically a piece of equipment used in the construction of the dam, which is 75 per cent completed, was also used in the diversion work.

The Lone Fighters insist the river wasn't diverted, but merely being returned to its natural creek bed, which was blocked off in the early 1920s. They refer to it as a "correction."

Just one day after the Lone Fighters' Society claimed victory, the province obtained a court injunction ordering police to immediately arrest anyone, who breached the order, which declared the diversion illegal.

Fifty RCMP officers were reported to have gathered across from the Lone Fighter's camp Thursday night. But no arrests were made as of press time.

Meanwhile, Peigan Chief Leonard Bastien and the council want a meeting Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon to discuss the dispute.

A meeting originally scheduled for Aug.31 with the Peigan council and four members of the provincial cabinet was abruptly canceled last week. Environment Minister Ralph Klein refuses to meet unless the diversion work is halted.

A councilor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Peigans prefer to meet with Siddon "because reserves are under federal jurisdiction and not under the provincial government." An answer is expected soon on the Peigans' request.

The Lone Fighters started work Aug.3 to divert the river flow around the headworks and canal of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District (LNID), which supplies farmers and communities downstream.

The protesters equipped with a small bulldozer, a backhoe, and a dump truck had cut a deep, wide channel so it extends to a sharp bend in the river. The fast moving water spilled into the deep ditch and into the old creek bed.

Lone Fighters' spokesman Milton Born With A Tooth also insisted no laws were being broken since the work didn't affect the weir and canal, which resulted from an 1981 agreement with the irrigation district. The agreement assures water for about 133,000 acres of land and domestic water for about 900 farm families and the towns of Picture Butte, Barons, Nobleford, Iron Springs and Turin.

"What we're doing is re-healing the river. The RCMP never bothered us because they knew we weren't breaking any laws," he s aid at an interview at the Lone Fighters encampment on the shore of the Oldman.

He accused the federal government of having broken its own laws by allowing construction of the dam without a proper environmental assessment study having bee conducted.

He said the successful attempt at diverting the river should silence those who ridiculed their actions.

Born With A Tooth said the Lone Fighters will now wait to see what the province does.

"The physical part is finished now. We have laid our foundation. Are the threats going to be realized?" he asked.

He said the chief and council didn't support the group's actions. "What they did was protect ourrights."

Born With A Tooth hopes the federal government will negotiate in good faith rather than using force as it did at Oka, Quebec. Meanwhile, the Peigan council is expected to be in court next month in Calgary to argue its water rights case. The band insists its treaty gives it rights to the Oldman water.