MORLEY, ALBERTA, - Reserve residents are getting some support for charging a toll to drivers looking for a shortcut when RCMP rerouted traffic around a fatal crash in southern Alberta this week.
Ken Christensen, tribal administrator with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation along the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary, says he's OK with band members pocketing some cash.
He sees it as an understandable reaction to overall discontent with drivers trespassing on the reserve's private property.
"I'm not going to condemn nation members because they put a few dollars in their pockets. They're the ones putting up with the inconvenience of all this traffic," Christensen said Wednesday.
"Members are really fed up with people cutting through the reserve illegally."
Paving work has created traffic backups on the highway since June, he said, and more motorists have been driving through the reserve.
"A lot of our roads are just gravel roads — they're not up to Alberta standards. They get damaged when there's a lot of traffic."
In addition to kicking up dust, the increase in traffic poses a danger to livestock and children, Christensen said.
And some drivers are spending more time on the reserve's roads than planned. Many get lost because the reserve's roads aren't named and GPS systems don't work there, said Christensen.
He said the unwanted traffic was getting so bad that the band hired members to occasionally stand guard at the reserve's main entrance and wave off vehicles.
On Monday, an 86-year-old woman was killed and six people were injured when a semi truck slammed head-on into a mini van on the Trans-Canada Highway. Police shut down eastbound lanes for several hours and directed vehicles to Highway 1A, which is public but runs through the reserve.
Many vehicles still ended up on reserve roads, said Christensen, who heard that some members pocketed tolls of $10 or $20 from drivers that day. But he stressed that motorists weren't forced to pay and could have taken the proper detour.
There has been criticism of the money-making venture in light of someone's death, but Christensen doesn't see it that way.
"My concern is for the people who were in the accident, not people who are trying to cut 15 minutes off their travel time."
The tolls are likely to be discussed at the band's next council meeting and guards will continue to work at the main entrance, he said. The construction work is to be finished by mid-October.
If necessary, Christensen said, the First Nation could complain to the RCMP and drivers could be charged with trespassing.
The band's 5,000 members, most living on the reserve, are flexible, he added. They can deal with one or two cars driving through once in awhile.
"But when you get a long line of traffic on the Trans-Canada trying to cut through during holiday season, you can see why people get concerned.
"Respect other people's property, just as you would a farmer ... people wouldn't drive through his property."