By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) are both threatening legal action now that the province has passed the Saskatchewan First Act.
This despite a last-minute amendment stating, “Nothing in the Act abrogates or derogates from the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada that are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”
“I think at the end of the day what will happen is, with respect to the infringement of our rights, it will likely end up in the courts and we will see how constitutional it is,” said Michelle LeClair, vice president for MN-S.
LeClair offered her remarks last Thursday in the legislature rotunda after the act received third and final reading. She was part of a large Metis and First Nations contingent in attendance in the gallery to watch the proceedings. They stood when the voting took place.
“We stood behind the formal (NDP) Opposition in their saying no.
So it was a show of support in them to say no because we say no.
Enough is enough,” said LeClair.
In a tweet March 18, Premier Scott Moe said, “Your Saskatchewan Party government will always stand up for Saskatchewan. We did so again this week when we passed the Saskatchewan First Act to defend our province’s economic autonomy from federal intrusion. Of course, the NDP voted against it.”
The Saskatchewan First Act (Bill 88) has come under attack ever since it was introduced last November by Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre. The act asserts and confirms the province’s exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources, including who can be licensed and where and how exploration can take place.
Both the FSIN and MN-S called out the government for lack of consultation both before the bill was drafted and as the bill worked its way through the legislature.
“We heard the words dialogue throughout the minister’s speech, but we haven’t had any dialogue or discussions with the provincial government,” said LeClair. “There was very little, if any, attempt to have consultation with us and consultation, by the way, has to start early. It has to start before a bill is introduced.”
LeClair said at the MN-S legislative assembly held last November, they unanimously rejected the Saskatchewan First Act, which “disrespected” the Sect. 35 rights of the 80,000 Metis in the province.
First Nations chiefs in their winter legislative assembly in February reaffirmed FSIN’s opposition to the Act.
In a statement issued after the passage of the bill, the FSIN committed to taking legal action “as it infringes on First Nations Inherent and Treaty Rights to land, water and resources.”
“The province of Saskatchewan does not have the jurisdiction to claim exclusive ownership of natural resources. The province was created after the signing of Treaties. First Nations through Treaties, maintain our rights to make decisions about their lands, resources, waters and Nations,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a statement issued last week.
He added that the Moe government was excluding First Nations from some provincial revenue programs and natural resource revenue sharing.
The result of that, said FSIN Fourth Vice Chief Heather Bear and FSIN Lands and Resources portfolio chairperson, was struggles within First Nations communities for clean drinking water, and adequate housing and food.
Late last year, Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta and Saskatchewan border, undertook legal action against the Alberta government, which gave royal assent to the Alberta Sovereignty Act (Bill 1) in December. Onion Lake decried lack of consultation and argued the Sovereignty Act negated the guarantees of rights in the Treaty to “freedom and agency.”
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith brought in the act as a means to prevent Ottawa from encroaching into provincial jurisdiction.
Onion Lake First Nation Chief Henry Lewis also committed to pursuing legal action against Saskatchewan should the Saskatchewan First Act be passed.
The Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in early December passed an emergency resolution condemning both the Sask.
First Act and the Alberta Sovereignty Act, calling for the two provincial governments to “immediately engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue on resource revenue sharing, so that First Nations benefit from the resource wealth in their respective traditional territories.”
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Windspeaker.com The LJI program is federally funded.