Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Unsupported claims by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith of Indigenous ancestry solicited peals of laughter from chiefs and audience members at a press conference this afternoon, but the same could not be said about Smith’s plans to introduce the Alberta Sovereignty Act.
Words like “unconstitutional,” “illegal,” and “unethical” peppered statements read by Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis, who served as spokesperson for the Confederacy of Treaty 6; Bearspaw Nation Chief Darcy Dixon, of Treaty 7; and Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey.
Smith is setting out, said Alexis, to provoke Indigenous peoples and the majority of Albertans, in order “to appease a small minority of Albertans who are unhappy with a Liberal federal government.”
At this point, there is no text for the Sovereignty Act, which Smith promised during her campaign for the leadership of the United Conservative Party. However, Smith, who won the leadership race and became premier, released a Free Alberta Strategy during her campaign. The Alberta Sovereignty Act is a cornerstone of that strategy and, says her campaign document, would “provide Alberta’s Legislature with the authority to refuse enforcement of any specific Act of Parliament or federal court ruling that Alberta’s elected body deemed to be a federal intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, or unfairly prejudicial to the interests of Albertans.”
Noskey said Treaty chiefs were united in their opposition against claims being made over their people, their lands and their territories and outright rejected Smith’s Sovereignty Act.
“Smith’s proposed Bill undermines the authority and duty of the sovereign Nations that entered into treaty,” he said. He added chiefs were offended by the act.
Smith’s actions, said Dixon, are another example of how “time and time again, we are shown by politicians and political parties in this country…. that Indigenous peoples are not a priority nor are we even considered in their planning, policy making and legislation.”
Chiefs stressed that Treaty was the highest law to govern the land, its resources and First Nations people.
“We have never ceded this territory…nor do we ever plan to,” said Alexis. “We will not stand by quietly…and allow colonial governing structures and people to ignore our inherent rights as Treaty people.”
He also pointed out that there had been “zero consultation” undertaken by Smith or her government.
“If Alberta was truly our partners, then we would have been the first peoples in Treaty 6, 7 and 8, that they should have come to consult with,” said Dixon.
He said all Albertans should be concerned by Smith’s actions.
“We need to come together to oppose this move from the Alberta government. We have more in common as a people than we do differences and I hope we can work together to ensure this act never comes to fruition,” said Dixon.
Should the act come forward and should it not be quashed by Lt. Gov. Salma Lakhani—she has already promised not to sign it into law if it's deemed to be unconstitutional —chiefs said they would turn to their “own academics and our own people” to see how to move forward and what course of actions to take.
“Whether we take it to court or not… that’s still up for discussion. But I think the provincial government still has a chance to try to truly build a relationship not just with Treaty 6, 7 or 8, but with all Albertans,” said Dixon.
As to whether Smith’s claims of having Cherokee ancestry were true, Alexis said, there is always a preceived "benefit" to be gained when a non-Indigenous person claims to be Indigenous. But "a true Indigenous person would not go against all the Treaty people of this land.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.