Standing on a podium in Ottawa with several treaty chiefs behind her, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations called for the withdrawal of Alberta’s sovereignty law and Saskatchewan’s first law.
Chiefs linked to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 say the acts violate treaty rights and that simply making changes would not be enough.
“We will not sit idly by. We will not allow that to happen,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Wednesday in Ottawa, where delegates gathered for the AFN assembly.
The Saskatchewan First Act, which recently passed its second reading in the Legislative Assembly, aims to confirm the province’s autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources and rule out federal policies such as climate change rules.
Meanwhile, Premier Danielle Smith’s proposal for Alberta sovereignty within a United Canada Act has faced widespread condemnation for language that would grant her and his cabinet, broad power to redress any federal policy, law or program deemed harmful to Alberta.
The Alberta government recently said it was amending its law to remove cabinet’s unilateral powers to change legislation, as the original version of the bill proposed.
“My caucus identified some issues that they wanted to address,” Smith told the Alberta Legislative Assembly earlier this week.
“They wanted clarification, and that’s the kind of leader I am. I want to make sure we get this bill done right, and I’m grateful that my caucus is putting forward amendments to do that.”
Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, northwest of Edmonton, said after talking to lawyers and policy experts he had many concerns about Alberta’s bill, especially that the province is trying to extend its jurisdiction.
“The Alberta Sovereignty in a United Canada Act is harmful to Albertans, Canadians and treaty people,” he said.
Alexis said an emergency resolution was presented to the Assembly of First Nations to gain the support of chiefs across the country.
Lack of consultation
The chiefs said that the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta did not consult with first nations.
“There’s all this talk about reconciliation, but there’s no real implementation,” said Vice Chief Aly Bear of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
“We ask the government to sit with us [and] have conversations. Let’s talk about moving forward together.”
There are fears the Alberta and Saskatchewan bills could have a domino effect across Canada, the chiefs say.
“What would prevent other provinces from following suit? And ultimately, what will this mean for treaty rights across Canada?” said Alexis.
Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe insisted his government’s law was inclusive.
“This does not change the government’s intentions to include all Saskatchewan people, aboriginal or otherwise, in the economy. The act is about making sure we’re focused on Saskatchewan so we can benefit collectively,” Moe said. .
A statement from Prime Minister Smith’s office said “it is clear in the Sovereignty Act that we will respect Indigenous rights and honor treaty rights.”
The government has reached out to arrange meetings with treaty leaders since they raised concerns, the statement said.
“The approach this government is taking is to ensure that we have strong and meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations partners,” the statement said.
Enshrined Treaty Rights: Sask. Justice Ministry
Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre says Saskatchewan’s first law will not threaten treaty rights.
“Section 35 of the Constitution guarantees treaty rights,” she said on Wednesday. “It guarantees the duty to consult. Nothing in this law takes away that in any way.”
The new law aims to protect the economy of everyone in the province, Eyre said.
The Saskatchewan government did not consult with Indigenous groups about the law, Eyre said, adding that the Constitution supports the province’s jurisdiction over natural resources.
“We didn’t consult them simply because it was an affirmation of what was already under [Section] 92A in the Constitution,” she said.
This article states that the provincial legislatures “shall exclusively make laws” relating to the exploration, development, conservation and management of non-renewable resources and forestry, and to the development, conservation and the management of sites in the province for the generation and production of electrical energy.
“We did not consult with First Nations when we started the carbon tax file, which was based on constitutional arguments about provincial jurisdiction,” Eyre said.
“There was nothing new that was really being undertaken here in terms of First Nations rights.”
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck said the lack of consultation with Indigenous groups is concerning.
The Leader of the Opposition said it’s no surprise that First Nations and Métis leaders are voicing their concerns.
Last month, six NDP MPs — Doyle Vermette, Vicki Mowat, Trent Wotherspoon, Matt Love, Meara Conway and Jennifer Bowes — joined 37 Saskatchewan Party MPs in supporting second reading of the bill.
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