Blockade brings safety to forefront

Last week’s blockade stirred up a lot of issues in the community and prompted a meeting between local MLAs and local First Nations groups.

  • Jan. 25, 2012 11:00 a.m.

Last week’s blockade stirred up a lot of issues in the community and prompted a meeting between local MLAs and local First Nations groups. A mutual concern for safety created common grounds for successful negotiations.

“Obviously we’re concerned with resource extraction,” said Pete Erickson, a local Keyoh holder and negotiator for the disgruntled First Nations group, “but the biggest concern was safety.”

The one-km line of logging trucks backed up by the roadblock points quite graphically to the amount of heavy traffic that makes its way through the Fort and the Nak’azdli reserve every day.

Despite any ill will the blockade has caused, Mayor MacDougall is sure the community will heal.

“We’re one community, and we have to work together, and we will work together,” said MacDougall.

With the disruption the blockade caused, some in the community feel that the police should have been more proactive in dealing with the situation and simply arrested the protesters and taken down the blockade, though Thalhoffer defends the detachment’s actions.

“The whole idea of the police is for a long term solution,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Thalhoffer, adding, “we could have removed everybody, but that might have inflamed the situation.”

Instead the police decided that negotiation would be best in the long term. They managed to negotiate first the detour through the reserve, then, towards the end of the blockade, moving through two trucks per hour. After two days of the blockade they managed to convince the protesters to take down the blockade in favour of talks with politicians.

The meeting, which took place the morning after the blockade was taken down, was attended by Erickson, MLA John Rustad, MLA Pat Bell, a representative from council, and Chief Fred Sam.

The protesters came away from the meeting with firm commitments from the mayor, the MLAs and the police to address the problem, including immediate commitments to crackdown on speeders in the reserve from the police, education campaigns for truckers and mines from the city and a commitment from the MLAs to communicate with the Ministry of Transportation to ensure they are aware of and working on the problem.

Some of the commitments, however, were not possible in such a short time frame.

“There are issues that need to be worked through and it’s not going to happen overnight,” said Rustad.

These include things like better lighting, sidewalks and crosswalks that are not possible in the winter.

Though accommodating in these demands Rustad warned that actions like the roadblock will not always get results.

“Not everything is going to be yes,” Rustad said, “but safety is everyone’s concern.”

As this progresses both sides are looking forward to improved communication to prevent any future blockages.

“But I think as we move forward there’s opportunity to work together to develop ways of getting the message out and educating the people about safety,” said Rustad.