By Jeremy Appel
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and the Sovereign Nation Chiefs of Treaty No. 8 have reiterated their criticisms of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s signature Sovereignty Act, calling it yet another colonial imposition on Indigenous eoples.
An open letter from Nov. 29 points out that the rights of Treaty No. 8 date back to an agreement signed with the Crown in 1899, predating the existence of the Province of Alberta, which was established in 1905.
“As signatories to Treaty No. 8, WE ARE Sovereign Peoples,” the letter says.
It proceeds to call the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, or Bill 1, “another unlawful attempt to continue the province’s deliberate abuse and exploitation of our peoples, lands, territories, and resources.”
Smith’s claim the legislation will protect Alberta’s “prosperity and constitutional jurisdiction” is nonsensical, “given that the province is a creature of the Canadian Constitution and more importantly, we are the land title holders of Treaty No. 8, and this province has prospered enough,” the letter says.
“The problem here Albertans is, this prosperity has been grossly mismanaged by your governments just like they have mismanaged our lands, waters, environment, and territories.”
The Alberta Sovereignty Act, in its original inception, would allow cabinet to forbid provincial agencies from enforcing federal legislation it deems unconstitutional or unfair to Alberta. It has been panned by most legal experts for subverting the will of the legislature.
A Nov. 23 news release from the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations calls the proposed legislation a “dangerous and damaging plan to undermine democracy and abandon the rule of law.”
“By using the word `sovereignty’ in the name of this proposed Act, Premier Smith should not pretend to have authority over sovereign First Nations,” the release says, calling on Albertans and Indigenous peoples to “come together to oppose this move from the Alberta government.”
“Being humble, listening and continuing to learn does not seem to be on Premier Danielle Smith’s agenda,” it said.
Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation, which is part of Treaty No. 6, told APTN News that the Smith government only reached out to First Nations leaders after the leadership of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 jointly denounced the act, which was drafted without their consultation, on Nov. 18. “It was like we are not important enough to be spoken to ? It was only after our press conference that they decided they were going to reach out,” Alexis said.
While the bill says none of its contents can infringe on Indigenous rights, Alexis says this doesn’t go far enough.
“The area that talks about Indigenous people ? it should be crossed out and in its place it should say it will not violate treaty and inherent rights,” he said.
“We are at the point now where it has become political football.”
Treaty 7 has not issued an additional statement, as it is in the midst of several elections, APTN reports.
A spokesperson for Smith told APTN the premier and Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson are in the process of reaching out to the chiefs of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 “to book in person meetings for the purposes of direct discussions on this issue including building upon shared values of economic prosperity and autonomy from the federal government.”
As a result of the backlash against her proposed legislation, Smith announced amendments on Dec. 5, which include legislative oversight for every step of the process and a narrowing of the scope of federal legislation that can be challenged under the bill.
“The measures must be unconstitutional, according to MLAs, interfere with provincial jurisdiction, or violate the charter rights of Albertans,” Michelle Bellefontaine of CBC News wrote.
But NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her party won’t support any tweaks to this bill, which she described as being damaged beyond repair.
“It is a mess. There are so many elements of it that create uncertainty. It needs to be withdrawn and they need to go right back to the drawing board,” Notley said.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS. The LJI program is federally funded.