With only one hurdle left, the southwest leg of the fabled ring road sits loosely in the hands and hearts of 800 Tsuu T’ina.

The First Nation’s band council signed off on a draft agreement recently, and a referendum set for June 30 will settle it once and for all; fittingly it goes to the Tsuu T’ina people.

Interesting that one of Calgary’s most important transportation projects — of the past, present or future — hinges on the approval of generations of ancestral traders, elders and a culture that doesn’t view land as a means to economic propensity.

I’m thinking the four levels of government needed to make this happen and might actually get this right, and although Chief Sanford Big Plume is apologetic for the delay, he shouldn’t be.

In the past, Calgary has been known to direct much needed infrastructure onto traditional First Nation lands to pad city coffers and appease voters, but Tsuu T’ina has been stout for 60 years ensuring the leverage of land wouldn’t slip.

Big Plume is thinking of his people’s future, a nuance that should be heralded in our more contemporary democratic forum.

Environmental concerns and the sanctity of traditional lands (Big Plume’s mother was born on a portion of the proposed alignment, and the ring road would skirt several burial sites) are of major concern to the Tsuu T’ina membership, and rightfully so.

Opportunity should not be overlooked however, and I think the band understands what the ring road could mean for the community.

“The road will mean more to Tsuu T’ina than just a cash infusion, it has to be built as part of a plan that allows us to develop businesses that will bring careers and hope for generations,” said Big Plume.

But the timing is right, the deal must be sweet and it’s hard to blame the band council for holding the four-kilometre-square parcel of land hostage for so many years.

In true Aboriginal tact, First Nation business has always been done with proper democracy and with generations in mind — time runs differently on the reserve.

With the unique geography of the nation being so close to a major urban centre, the Tsuu T’ina should be looking at this as an empowering business deal and a means to needed cultural and social programs.

You might say the ring road will be a saviour if not a really good friend to the Tsuu T’ina.

– Chris Phalen has contributed to Avenue magazine, the Prince Albert Daily Herald, the Globe and Mail and various magazines; calgaryletters@metronews.ca.