By Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Poundmaker Cree Nation is pulling out of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, and also intends to leave the national Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Leaders say the band will preserve and protect Treaty rights as an independent nation.

Poundmaker, “in exercising their jurisdiction,” served a band council resolution to the FSIN terminating its membership, effective immediately, the band said Thursday in a news release.

According to the notice, Poundmaker members “no longer want to be associated or represented by the FSIN, as they do not serve the purpose it’s intended for, which is to ‘preserve and protect Treaty.’ ”

Chief Duane Antoine said Poundmaker will also serve notice to the AFN “within a couple of weeks,” ending that relationship.

He said the First Nation will now represent itself directly with the provincial and federal governments “on its own desired self-determined initiatives that support Treaty and inherent rights within the terms of Treaty 6.”

“We are moving along,” he said. “We want to deal directly to our Treaty partner, the Federal government, nation to nation.”

Longtime councillor Bryan Tootoosis said this decision has been years in the making.

“We’ve discussed it publicly, through our Elders, our band members, in meetings we’ve had about what’s best for our children, the unborn and our Elders, thinking, of course, all the time, about the needs and the requirements of the people from Poundmaker,” he said.

Matters have now come “to a boiling point,” Tootoosis said.

“FSIN has not preserved and protected our Treaty rights for a long time. We just lost faith in the whole area of jurisdiction.”

He said the First Nation has been working hard on issues of education, community safety, health and food sovereignty — but when it needed help, “there was no FSIN around, anywhere.”

In particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tootoosis said it has been difficult to get the money and support they need to keep their people safe and well.

“Funding for the pandemic was going through everybody else,” he said. “By the time it got to us, we got crumbs.”

Tootoosis echoed Chief Antoine’s wish for Poundmaker to take on a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government, one Treaty Six signatory to another.

“We have the education. We have lots of professional people from Poundmaker. We have lawyers, we have social workers, we have all the university-educated people.

“We need to do things ourselves — and I think we do better when we do things ourselves.”

Tootoosis emphasized that this decision is “not a personal attack” on the these advocacy organizations or the people who work there — he himself used to work for the FSIN, and Poundmaker members are still employed there.

“We are trying our best to make things work for everybody, and our number one priority is protecting our Treaty rights and obligations,” he said. “It’s a business, political and community-based decision. The Elders have spoken many times about this, and we decided that this is the appropriate time.”

The FSIN now represents 73 First Nations in Saskatchewan. The federation, which could not immediately be reached for comment, says its mandate is to honour the spirit and intent of the treaties, as well as the promotion, protection and implementation of the treaty promises that were made more than a century ago.

The AFN represents more than 600 First Nations and more than 900,000 Indigenous people in Canada.

Poundmaker Cree Nation, located near Cut Knife, has more than 1,250 members.