Online group seeks to shake things up in Bigstone country

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

A lot of Bigstone Cree Nation members probably know there’s an online forum for members that has been pretty active the past while.

Founded by Travis A. Gladue, the Bigstone Empowerment Society (BES) has grown from simply a place to discuss the issues on people’s minds into what might be described as a ‘movement.’
At least that’s the impression one gets from talking to Gladue.

“It started as a social media thing,” Gladue told The Leader in a phone conversation late last year. “With about 30 people. Now we have just under 900 members.”

From talking about things after a brief Bigstone blockade last March, the group has evolved into a society with a board of directors, Gladue says. And it wants answers.

Such as?

“Where the money is going,” he says. “We’ve been sending frequent letters to chief and council,” with no response. “We’d like to know what’s going on, but we’re kept in the dark.”

Finding out who sits on various band-controlled businesses and how they benefit is another thing the group is interested in, Gladue says. The Bigstone website doesn’t reveal much, he adds – another thing that needs changing. What BES is able to find out, it makes public.

“We provide facts,” Gladue says. “Who gets all the payouts. Who sits on what. We get corporate searches done and as soon as we find something out, we post it.”
Generally speaking, transparency and accountability are what the BES wants. Along with that is the issue of better representation for off-reserve Bigstone members, which Gladue says outnumber the on-reserve ones.

Gladue himself lives in Edmonton and works as an accountant. But he said he has strong ties to the community in Wabasca-Desmarais and spends a lot of time there. He worked as the financial officer for the M.D. of Opportunity for three years.

Could Gladue and his cohorts in the BES have impact in changing the way Bigstone does its business? Gladue seems to think so.

The BES isn’t only concerned with BFN politics. Gladue says another thing it is doing is advocating for the repatriation of Bigstone artifacts it has found at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. A quick look at its Facebook page shows posts on all sorts of newsy things going on from across the country.

It’s possible the type of advocacy practiced by BES could lead to changes in the way things are done, by stirring up voter interest in certain issues. Gladue notes that there’s an election for chief and council coming, and BES certainly plans to play a role.

Getting back to Bigstone’s financial affairs, Gladue figures chief and council need third party oversight. “But it can’t be from INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada),” he says, because that smacks of colonialism.” We want to be that third party.”

Chief Gordon Auger, meanwhile, is not too impressed, if remarks quoted in a Windspeaker article by Shari Narine last year are anything to go by.
“There’s a handful of s—t disturbers in every nation,” he said.

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