“We’re not asking for amendments to these acts. We are actually asking that the Saskatchewan first and the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, be withdrawn.”
That was the message from Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, along with the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and the G4 in Treaty 7 Territory at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
Archibald said the two bills — Bill 1 in Alberta and Bill 88 in Saskatchewan — are an infringement of their rights and “we will not stand idly by (and) will not allow it to happen.”
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Treaty 6, 7 and the AFN put forward an emergency resolution at the Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa to reject sovereignty bills that are before both provincial legislatures.
In Alberta, under the current bill, the cabinet would have a wide latitude to respond to whatever federal law policy or program it deems harmful to Alberta’s interests. Whereas the act in Saskatchewan would allow the government to have independence over its natural resources.
Chief Tony Alexis, of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation northwest of Edmonton, said there has been no consultation or dialogue with First Nations around the Alberta bill.
It has been criticized for giving the premier and cabinet unchecked powers to alter laws behind close doors, although amendments to change that have recently been put forward.
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Alexis said the bill is harmful to Albertans and Canadians. He said it infringes on treaty rights and could set a harmful precedent.
“We are deeply concerned that, if passed, it would have a domino effect across Canada,” Alexis said. “And what would keep other provinces from following suit and, ultimately, what will that mean for treaty rights across Canada?”
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“The Saskatchewan First Act will clarify and defend Saskatchewan’s constitutional right to control our natural resources and our economic future,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on Nov. 1.
Concerns by Treaty chiefs were raised after the group said there has been no consultation with First Nations when it comes to the acts and that it’s yet another blow to the path forward with Truth and Reconciliation.
“We’re asking a government to actually sit down with us and have conversations. Let’s talk about moving forward together,” Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief Aly Bear said.
“You know, there’s all this talk about reconciliation but there’s no real implementation of that either.”
The chiefs said the federal government has, so far, taken a hands-off approach to the bills and encouraged officials to meet with First Nations leaders from the provinces.
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Alberta’s minister of Indigenous Relations said he’s heard the concerns about the sovereignty act and the province will “continue to work with the chiefs.”
“Should we have done more consultation? Absolutely,” Rick Wilson said in the legislature Wednesday.
“So we’re continuing to work with the chiefs.
“I’ve met with other Indigenous leaders who didn’t have the same concerns, who felt that it actually might help them with their natural resources, to make sure they can get them out.
“We have to really listen to the chiefs. They do have Treaty rights and we have to respect that. And that’s why we put the clauses in there that we will respect their Treaty rights.
“Some of the concerns I heard was around it could affect their relationship with working with the federal government around children’s services and that type of thing,” Wilson said.
“I’m planning some meetings with the premier to meet with the First Nations groups and to make sure it’s clear that we respect them and we respect their rights and we’re going to continue to work with them no matter what happens.”
He was asked that since the bill could pass as early as Wednesday, isn’t it too late for a meeting?
“It’s never too late to continue our relationship and working with them and clarifying what the bill really means,” Wilson responded. “If we had called it ‘the Clarification on how we Interact with the Federal Government Act,’ it probably wouldn’t have been an issue as much, but calling it the sovereignty act is one of the biggest concerns I’m hearing.”
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Leader of the Opposition NDP Rachel Notley said the UCP’s response to this has been insulting.
She said they’re trying to “jam through” the sovereignty act with an “unprecedented use of majority power to shut down debate” early in session.
“They’ve been unable to refer to a single validator from the investor community, from the business community, from oil and gas. Meanwhile, the chorus of opposition grows, including significant concerns raised today by Treaty Chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations.
“These folks are saying the bill is fatally flawed and must be withdrawn. And it is not possible to fix the mistake after the fact by having a token meeting after these folks have jammed through this legislation,” Notley said.
“I think it’s very weak and it is deeply insulting to suggest they can rebuild the relationship that they are very clearly dismissing and putting in great jeopardy today by ramming forth the passage of this bill before they have those meeting. The fact of the matter is they failed to consult.”
She said it’s clear the Treaty Chiefs see this act as jeopardizing their Treaty rights.
“It is very clear that they have not been consulted by the premier. And it is very clear that she doesn’t care.
“The broken relationships there will continue and that will undermine economic uncertainty for so many economic opportunities across the province.”
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In a statement Wednesday, the office of Premier Danielle Smith responded:
“Reconciliation begins with strengthening our relationship with the First Nations peoples of Alberta. The approach this government is taking is to ensure we have strong and meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations partners. This includes economic reconciliation, and working together on major projects going across our province and our country to further strengthen our relationship.
“It’s clear in the sovereignty act that we will respect Indigenous rights and respect treaty rights. We understand that there are Chiefs from Treaties 6, 7, and 8 that have expressed concern for Bill 1.
“Since then, our government has reached out to arrange meetings and we’re looking forward to discussing these issues.”
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–with files from the Canadian Press