Buffalo Declaration a 'clear display of ignorance,' says Alberta treaty nation

Alberta First Nation leaders are speaking out against a recent notice released by four Conservative MPs from Alberta, which they say they will not support.

4 Conservative MPs released notice directed to the federal government in late February

Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin, left, was appointed to serve as Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six earlier this year. Treaty Six spoke out about the Buffalo Declaration, a 13-page notice released last week by four Conservative MPs, including Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, right. (Treaty 6 Confederacy/Mike Symington/CBC)

Alberta First Nation leaders from Treaty Six are speaking out against a recent notice released by four Conservative MPs from Alberta, which they say they will not support.

"This declaration is a clear display of ignorance and moreover a thoughtless claim of support to your inequalities," reads a letter released by the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations on Friday.

The Buffalo Declaration, released Feb. 20, is a 13-page notice that calls for "immediate action" from the federal government and makes a series of demands, like eliminating or phasing out equalization and requiring Ottawa to acknowledge the "devastation of the National Energy Program."

The document also demanded Teck Resources' Frontier oilsands mine be allowed to proceed, prior to the Vancouver-based company withdrawing its application last week.

The demands must be met, according to the document, or else residents of the province will seek separation from Canada.

But First Nations leaders in Alberta are speaking out against the fundamentals of the notice, and even against the evocation of the animal to which the notice owes its name.

According to its website, the Buffalo Declaration was named in recognition of Sir Frederick Haultain, the first premier of what was formerly known as the North-West Territories, an area that included what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Haultain sought provincial status for his large western territory, which he referred to as "Buffalo."

"The buffalo are a sacred being to our ceremonies and our culture, and in no way should it be used to further a political gain," reads the Treaty Six letter. "The audacity to select the very four-legged being that your ancestors attempted to wipe out in an effort to annihilate our existence, is an insult to our people."

The four Conservative MPs behind the document are Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards, Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner MP Glen Motz and Peace River-Westlock MP Arnold Viersen. None of the members responded to requests for comment by press time.

'A culturally distinct region'

One of the demands of the Buffalo Declaration is a requirement that Ottawa recognize Alberta — "or Buffalo" — as a "culturally distinct" region within Confederation.

On this front, the declaration notes it is necessary to "first give deference to the rights and culture of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people," acknowledging their traditional territory and their rights to tell their own stories.

In addition, the document alleges that Alberta is distinct among provinces in Canada, with unique immigration patterns of settlers, a rich ranching tradition and a storied historical past. That history includes figures like the so-called Famous Five — Nelly McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards — who won a landmark court ruling that paved the way to women having full rights equal to that of men, including the right to vote and to hold elected office.

As such, the document says, Ottawa should seek to recognize Alberta's distinct cultural identity and "promote awareness of the same."

The Treaty Six statement calls that move a "false support and inclusion of our people."

"We are continuously added to documents such as these to further yet another colonial agenda," the statement reads. "Throughout the document it mentions the First Nations People a total of eight times, then ironically asks the Prime Minister to recognize the province as 'culturally distinct.'

"This is a contradictory statement, in the sense that it lacks inclusion of the originally culturally distinct peoples of this land."

Treaty Six was signed in August 1876, with boundaries running through central Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Economic decline

The Buffalo Declaration argues that the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have "precipitated significant economic decline" in western Canada, specifically citing a number of pipeline projects, the carbon tax and the "refusal to enforce the rule of law on approved resource development projects."

Those moves have had "profound and devastating" impacts on Albertans, the document says, leading to shattered families, high suicide rates and increased instances of domestic violence.

Such stories are familiar to Alberta's Indigenous community, according to the Treaty Six document.

"Sadly, these are the types of tragedies our people can connect with. Regrettably, the Indigenous communities have statistics that triple those incidences as compared to the average non-Indigenous communities," the letter reads. "We ask you, why is that not enough to reinforce our pleas for sovereignty?"

The Treaty Six letter ends by stating that treaty land "is, was, and never will be owned by any level of government."

"Therefore, it is unviable for any government to negotiate and leverage any such threats or transactions. Without a bill of sale, there was never any sale of our lands," the letter reads. "Our traditional territory were provided by the Creator and gifted to us to respect, honour and protect."