Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Premier Jason Kenney and the Alberta UCP government have come under fire from two treaty organizations.
Only one day apart this week, the Confederacy of Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta condemned Kenney for not working toward reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of the province.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Kenney expressed surprise that the Calgary Board of Education had agreed to rename Langevin School. He was then asked about a second school in Calgary named for John A. MacDonald. Both Hector-Louis Langevin and MacDonald played key roles as architects of the Indian residential school system.
“If we want to get into cancelling every figure in our history who took positions on issues at the time that we now judge harshly, and rightly, in historical retrospect, then I think almost the entire founding leadership of our country gets cancelled,” he said on June 1.
Kenney’s cancel culture remarks didn’t sit well with Treaty 6 Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker or Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey.
“The Premier’s diatribe was particularly insensitive especially on the heels of the mass grave discovery in Kamloops, BC, and one day after a vigil was held at the Alberta legislature to show honour, respect and unity to the loss of innocent lives of First Nation children,” said Watchmaker in a press statement June 2.
“Jason Kenney perpetuates a narrative that is laced in racism, domination, denial and manipulation of the true history, a colonial system that has implemented such horrific actions into policy that still exists today,” said Noskey in a press statement June 3.
Watchmaker went on to say that Kenney’s remarks confirm the decision made by Treaty 6 to dissolve the protocol agreement signed with the province last December.
Kenney was notified of the move in a letter May 12.
“The decision to dissolve the agreement was made by the member First Nations at their Assembly meeting. When we gave our notice, we left the door open to discussions when the government was ready to work in a more effective and collaborative manner,” said Watchmaker.
In an emailed statement to Windspeaker.com, the Indigenous Relations ministry expressed disappointment in the decision, saying the protocol agreement had been dissolved without unanimous consent from Treaty 6 First Nations.
“Alberta’s government entered into this agreement in good faith, with the idea of working together in a spirit of respect and partnership to move forward our shared social and economic priorities. This is why it came as a surprise when the Confederacy informed us weeks ago that they were unilaterally pulling out of the Agreement with no prior warning or communication. Protocol agreements chart a course for meaningful discussions, information sharing and a way to explore issues of mutual concern. It is our best path forward, and we will continue to work with the Grand Chief to find a solution that is good for us all,” said the statement.
In December 2020, Treaty 6 became the third group of First Nations to sign a protocol agreement with the UCP in 15 months. The agreements, specific to each group, are not legally binding nor do they create any legal rights or responsibilities. At that time Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson explained the agreements provided the treaty groups with the ability to have “direct contact” with ministers, as well as a guarantee of an annual meeting with Kenney.
Also signing protocol agreements were the Blackfoot Confederarcy (September 2019) and Stoney Nakoda-Tsuut’ina Tribal Council (October 2020).
About a year after signing the agreement, Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said the Blackfoot Confederacy had experienced no benefits.
Windspeaker.com reached out to both Crowfoot and Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Roy Whitney to see if they intended to follow the example set by Treaty 6. Neither responded.
Treaty 8 did not sign a protocol agreement with the UCP government although “they’ve been pushing it on us,” Noskey told Windspeaker.com in a telephone interview.
Noskey said Treaty 8 had signed protocol agreements with two successive governments – the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP – to “try to educate them that this is a sovereign relationship. Two times at the table we failed, so we didn’t bother going anywhere with the UCP.”
Considering Kenney issued a statement celebrating the 91 anniversary of the Natural Resources Transfer Acts drives home Noskey’s point. The NRTA was legislation passed by the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 1930 that transferred full control over natural resources from the federal government to the four provinces.
“The NRTA is an illegal instrument. It’s kind of like a land grab issue, but we are a sovereign Nation and not a state,” said Noskey.
He said Treaty 8’s economic development team will be working directly with the oil and gas industry and forestry to build relationships and enter into agreements.
Noskey surmises Treaty 6 chiefs dissolved the protocol agreement, which the agreement allows them to do unilaterally, because “they realized it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Noskey said that such protocol agreements are “only about the picture.”
The Treaty 8 statement also condemns other actions by other UCP members. Wilson was singled out for his announcement earlier this week to fund research to compile a registry that will include undocumented deaths and burials of the Indigenous children who attended residential schools in Alberta.
“This is a disgraceful, opportunistic, blanket statement from a government disinterested in reconciliation. There was no meaningful dialogue with the Sovereign Nations of Treaty No. 8 to discuss any of this work despite the fact that there were 11 residential schools within Treaty No. 8 (in Alberta),” said the press statement.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was taken to task for tweeting that she “can’t begin to imagine the horrific feeling of losing a child.”
“These children were not lost, they were stolen,” said Noskey in the statement.
LaGrange was also called out for the limited inclusion of Indian residential schools in the new kindergarten-Grade 6 curriculum.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.