Onion Lake Cree Nation is taking the provincial government to court over the Saskatchewan First Act.
The controversial legislation which recently received royal assent has received threats of legal action from many Indigenous groups, but Onion Lake is the first to start an official legal process by filing a statement of claim at the Court of Kings Bench in Saskatoon Thursday morning.
The Statement of Claim asserts the Saskatchewan Government did not properly consult Indigenous people on the legislation and that the law will negatively affect Treaty rights.
Onion Lake is also in a legal battle with the Government of Alberta over a similar natural resource sovereignty law in that province.
The Cree Nation held a news conference about the court filing in Saskatoon on Thursday afternoon.
“We have been consistent with our opposition to the bill,” said Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Henry Lewis, speaking on the many times OLCN has spoken out against the legislation over the past six months.
Lewis now says their only recourse is legal action.
“You share the land with us and other Nations and we remind premier Moe no legislation can change treaty relationship and jurisdiction,” said the Onion Lake Chief. “There is a better way forward than posturing against bad law and fighting the provincial government over power they simply don’t have.”
The provincial government has consistently asserted the Saskatchewan First Act will not infringe on treaty rights and even put in a last minute amendment to the bill saying that it cannot infringe upon Treaty rights found in Section 35 of the Constitution.
However, Michael Marchen, legal counsel for Onion Lake, believes this amendment doesn’t matter.
“The bill claims an exclusive legislative jurisdiction, meaning that of necessity if (the province) has exclusive jurisdiction in Saskatchewan… it excludes everybody else,” he said. “So the rights the premier claims that are protected are actually set by definition by the Government of Saskatchewan.”
Marchen believes the court process in the matter should take around 6 months.
The provincial government now has 20 days to respond to the recent filing.
The statement of claim can be found here – OLCN Filed Statement of Claim.
(PHOTO: Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Henry Lewis speaks at a press conference in Saskatoon on Thursday afternoon. Photo by Joel Willick.)