Legal action being taken by the Onion Lake Cree Nation against the provincial government for passing the Saskatchewan First Act underscores why duty to consult legislation is required in the province, says an Opposition member of the legislature (MLA).
“We wouldn’t be hearing of nations taking the provincial government to court had they been consulting in a way that’s meaningful to the nations or to the impacted groups,” said Saskatoon Centre NDP MLA Betty Nippi-Albright.
On Thursday, the Saskatchewan legislature votes on Nippi-Albright’s private member’s bill 610, An Act Respecting the Meaningful Implementation of the Crown’s Duty to Consult in Saskatchewan.
Bill 610 is a retread of Bill 609, which Nippi-Albright introduced last spring, but which died on the order paper in November.
It calls for consultation on all “Crown Conduct,” which is defined as “an action taken by the Crown or which is contemplated by the Crown which may adversely impact Treaty and Inherent Rights.”
Consultation is called upon for the disposition or auctioning of Crown lands, minerals and leases; for changes to regulations, policy or strategic plans; changes that would have an environmental impact on water; and changes to the allocations of quotas or licenses of fish and wildlife for recreational or commercial use, which may later impact the right of access to those resources protected by treaty and inherent rights.
“These court cases that are coming forward because (the government’s) process is flawed, does not work, and it was created from a Eurocentric perspective without input from impacted people in the creation of that policy,” said Nippi-Albright.
Onion Lake Cree Nation filed a statement of claim April 13 calling out Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government for not consulting with them before or during the creation of the Saskatchewan First Act, which received Royal Assent earlier in the month.
The Sask First Act asserts and confirms Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction in a number of areas, including the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural and forestry resources.
The Act does not acknowledge that under treaty, the Crown agreed to share the land and resources with Onion Lake Cree Nation and other Indigenous peoples who first made treaty with the Crown, contends the Nation.
Nippi-Albright, alongside the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, added her support to Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Henry Lewis.
“When I started on the duty to consult it was to amplify the voices of the communities,” said Nippi-Albright, who is Saulteaux and Cree.
“So I have been working with Onion Lake in helping them amplify their voices when it comes to the lack of duty to consult and the sale of Crown lands and leases that are still occurring.”
Consultation for the Saskatchewan government is guided by a First Nation and Métis policy framework adopted in June 2010.
“Policy…is just a document that says what we will do and what we won’t do, but it has absolutely no teeth. There’s no way of holding the government to account on that,” said Nippi-Albright.
Legislation means accountability, she says.
Nippi-Albright stresses that while her bill legislates duty to consult, it is up to the impacted communities as to how that process will be carried out. Government would not dictate that process.
But for Nippi-Albright’s private member’s bill to pass it means voting can’t take place along party lines. The NDP have only 12 of the 61 seats in the legislature. The Saskatchewan Party holds 45 seats and Saskatchewan United has one.
“This government is really not interested in true reconciliation, and they’re not interested in meaningful consultation. They only are there to allow the nations to let off steam, but the government will stay the course and they’re very focused on what they perceive as the best interests of the citizens of this province,” she said.
Even if the bill fails to get the required votes for first reading, Nippi-Albright says she will keep pushing the issue because legislation is needed.
Nippi-Albright has invited people to attend the legislature Thursday morning when the vote is held. However, a forecast for a major snowstorm in Regina has her doubtful too many people will be able to make the trip.
“I don’t know how many will show up because of the storm (but) when there hasn’t been storms that were brewing or coming, we’ve actually had large turnouts at the legislature,” she said.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com