Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chiefs across Canada have put their support behind an emergency resolution at the Assembly of First Nations that condemns legislation in Saskatchewan and Alberta that infringes upon the rights of First Nations people.
In an address to the Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa Dec. 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told them they do not stand alone. But he won’t be fighting the battle against the provinces.
In response to a question put to him by the Onion Lake proxy, who said the acts were “an attack on our treaty and inherent rights. It's something that will tear at the fabric of what you call the state of Canada and what we call Turtle Island,” Trudeau openly criticized The Saskatchewan First Act and Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.
“We are extremely concerned about what the Sovereignty Act in Alberta and Bill 88 in Saskatchewan represent in terms of challenges to treaty rights that are fundamental in Canada and need to be respected,” Trudeau said.
However, he added, it’s not the federal government’s place to admonish the provinces. The remedy lies in the court system.
“When it comes to fighting for treaty rights, when it comes for fighting for Section 35 rights, we will always be there,” said Trudeau. “But we’re in a situation right now, to be direct and honest about it, Bill 1 Sovereignty Act in Alberta, it is being moved forward as very much a political tool to try and pick a fight with the federal government and I’m not interested in fighting with the Alberta government.”
Smith has promoted the Sovereignty Act as “designed to be a constitutional shield to protect Albertans from unconstitutional federal laws and policies that harm our province’s economy or violate Alberta's provincial rights.”
While Trudeau isn’t willing to engage the provinces, the chiefs-in-assembly overwhelmingly said they would. Just prior to Trudeau’s presentation they passed a resolution rejecting both The Saskatchewan First Act and Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.
In a press conference held on Wednesday morning in Ottawa, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald described the bills as having a “specific agenda and it all comes down to lands and resources…(It) is infringing upon our rights and we will not stand idly by. We will not allow it to happen.”
Neither piece of legislation involved any consultation with Indigenous peoples in the respective provinces before they were introduced, said chiefs.
The emergency resolution calls for the Scott Moe Saskatchewan Party government and the Danielle Smith United Conservative Party government in Alberta to “immediately engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue on resource revenue sharing, so that First Nations benefit from the resource wealth in their respective traditional territories.”
The AFN was also called upon to conduct a “comprehensive legal analysis” of both bills along with the Natural Resource Transfer Act of 1930, including examining territorial and provincial encroachment on First Nation sovereignty, rights and title.
At the press conference Wednesday Dec. 7, Alberta and Saskatchewan chiefs said the two acts could set a precedent.
“This is not specific to First Nations located in Alberta. It’s a national issue. It’s a treaty issue,” said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. “We are deeply concerned that if passed it will have a domino effect across Canada, and what would keep other provinces from following suit and, ultimately, what will that mean for treaty rights across Canada?”
Alexis spoke on behalf of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.
“We see (the Sovereignty Act) as a disguised attempt to disregard treaty and as a way to gain unlawful access to our lands without restrictions,” said Bearspaw Nation Chief Darcy Dixon, representing the G4 (Stoney Nakoda Nations and Tsuut’ina Nation) in Treaty 7 territory.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chair Aly Bear spoke on behalf of Saskatchewan First Nations.
“Our treaties continue to be breached and we need to make sure we are holding those accountable for breaching those treaties,” said Bear.
The Saskatchewan First Act asserts the province's exclusive jurisdiction in the areas of exploration of non-renewable natural resources, the development, conservation and management of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the operation of sites and facilities to generate electricity.
The chiefs called for both acts to be withdrawn.
However, on Wednesday night the Sovereignty Act received third and final reading in a late night sitting of the Alberta legislature. The UCP limited debate on the bill.
“The very passing of the Sovereignty Act infringes our treaties,” said Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro in a statement.
He said his Nation stood with the AFN, Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 Nations, and the FSIN in rejecting both The Saskatchewan First Act and Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.
Twenty-three of the 25 Treaty 8 Nations in Alberta split from the AFN earlier this year, but Treaty 8 also has come out swinging against the Sovereignty Act.
The Saskatchewan Act received second reading on Nov. 28.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.