The Chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation criticized “unacceptable” behaviour after two posts designed to keep ATVs off a hiking trail were cut down.
The trail leading to the Pelican Rapids is a popular 30-minute hike. The trailhead is located a short drive from Fort Smith, on Smith’s Landing’s traditional territory.
Thaidene Paulette, one of the First Nation’s councillors, said gate posts at the trailhead appeared to have been cut with a chainsaw to allow ATVs onto the trail.
“We put the fence and gate up after a lot of booze-cruising and drinking was happening from the public toward Pelican Rapids, and garbage was being left behind,” Paulette explained.
“That whole trail and up to the rapids is our reserve, and we decided that’s what we needed to cut down on it.
“The bottom line is it’s our reserve area and we have to manage it how we see fit to keep it clean and tidy and safe.”
Chief Gerry Cheezie, commenting on the First Nation’s Facebook post about the vandalism, said it was “unacceptable behaviour from trail riders.”
Cheezie said the First Nation had invested time, resources, and money maintaining the trail and keeping ATVs “from running amok over our land and destroying it.”
“If this behaviour continues, we will permanently block access to this part of the trail,” the chief wrote.
Paulette said Smith’s Landing wants to promote the Trans Canada Trail and the beauty of the First Nation’s territory, but, he said, people “don’t need to get all extra and come onto our reserve and cut down our gate because they can’t drive past it on a side-by-side.”
“That’s real colonial energy,” he said.
Since the gate was installed last year, Paulette said he had heard “grumblings” from the public about restricting use of the Trans Canada Trail.
“What’s concerning about that is Indigenous people are still always having to deal with the attitude that Canadians have that if they think something is in their public interest, it should happen,” said Paulette, “or they should be able to do it regardless if it takes place on or affects Indigenous territory.”
It’s not known who cut down the gate. The First Nation said on Facebook anyone requiring ATV access to the trail, such as in an emergency situation, can request that a separate metal gate be unlocked.
Cheezie said Smith’s Landing would press charges if the First Nation discovers who destroyed the gate posts.
Paulette said new and potentially sturdier posts will be erected as soon as possible.