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Treaties and Land Claims

First Nations demand withdrawal of proposed Alberta Sovereignty, Saskatchewan First acts

December 8, 2022
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says she supports treaty chiefs who are opposing the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act and the Saskatchewan First Act. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: Standing at a podium in Ottawa with several treaty chiefs behind her, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations called for the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act and the Saskatchewan First Act to be withdrawn.

Chiefs connected with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 say the acts infringe on treaty rights and that making amendments to them wouldn’t be enough. “We will not stand idly by. We will not allow it to happen,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Wednesday in Ottawa, where delegates have gathered for the AFN’s assembly.

The Saskatchewan First Act, which recently passed its second reading at the legislature, aims to confirm the province’s autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources and ward off federal policies such as climate change rules.

Meanwhile, Premier Danielle Smith’s proposed Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act has faced widespread condemnation for language that would grant her and her cabinet sweeping authority to redress any federal policy, law or program it deems harmful to Alberta.

The Alberta government recently said it’s amending its act to take away cabinet’s unilateral powers to change legislation, as proposed in the original version of the bill. “My caucus identified some issues that they wanted to address,” Smith told the Alberta legislature earlier this week.

“They wanted to seek some clarity, and that’s the kind of leader I am. I want to make sure that we get this bill right, and I’m grateful that my caucus is going to propose amendments to do that.”

Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, northwest of Edmonton, said that after speaking with lawyers and policy experts, he has many concerns about Alberta’s proposed legislation, including concerns the province is trying to extend its jurisdiction.

“The Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is harmful to Albertans, Canadians and treaty people,” he said.

Alexis said an emergency resolution was put forward at the Assembly of First Nations to garner support from chiefs across the country.

Lack of consultation 

Chiefs have said that the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments didn’t consult with First Nations.

“There’s all this talk about reconciliation, but there’s no real implementation of that,” said Vice-Chief Aly Bear of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

“We’re asking the government to actually sit down with us [and] have conversations. Let’s talk about moving forward together.”

FSIN Vice-Chief Aly Bear hopes governments can start from scratch with meaningful collaboration. (Aly Bear)

There is a concern that Alberta and Saskatchewan’s proposed pieces of legislation could have a domino effect across Canada, chiefs say.

“What would keep other provinces from following suit? And ultimately, what will that mean for treaty rights across Canada?” Alexis said.

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe insisted his government’s act is inclusive.

“It doesn’t change the intentions the government has to include all Saskatchewan people, Indigenous or otherwise, in the economy. What the act is focused on is to make sure we have the focus on Saskatchewan so we can collectively benefit,” Moe said.

A statement from Premier Smith’s office said “it’s clear in the Sovereignty Act that we will respect Indigenous rights and respect treaty rights.”

The government has reached out to arrange meetings with treaty chiefs since they expressed concerns, according to the statement.

“The approach this government is taking is to ensure we have strong and meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations partners,” the statement said. 

Treaty rights enshrined: Sask. justice minister

Saskatchewan Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre says the Saskatchewan First Act will not threaten treaty rights.

Section 35 of the Constitution guarantees treaty rights,” she said on Wednesday. “It guarantees duty to consult. Nothing in this act takes away from that in any way.”

The new act is about protecting the economy for everyone in the province, said Eyre.

The Saskatchewan government did not consult with Indigenous groups about the act, said Eyre, adding that the Constitution supports the province’s jurisdiction over natural resources.

“We didn’t consult with them merely because it was an assertion of what was already under [Section] 92A in the Constitution,” she said.

That section states provincial legislatures “may exclusively make laws” related to exploration, development, conservation and management of non-renewable resources and forestry, as well as development, conservation and management of sites in the province for generation and production of electrical energy.

“We didn’t consult with the First Nations when we undertook the carbon tax case, which was based on provincial jurisdictional constitutional arguments,” said Eyre.

“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 Opposition leader said it is not surprising that First Nations and Métis leaders are speaking out about their worries.

Last month, six NDP MLAs — Doyle Vermette, Vicki Mowat, Trent Wotherspoon, Matt Love, Meara Conway and Jennifer Bowes — joined 37 Saskatchewan Party MLAs in support of the second reading of the bill.