Sask. First Nations call for better duty-to-consult legislation

Saskatchewan's NDP introduced a bill designed to change the duty-to-consult process, which First Nations from the province say is outdated and far behind the rest of the country.

Province pledges to address legislation later this year after talks with First Nations, industry

First Nations in Saskatchewan say they want to the government to change it's duty-to-consult legislation, as some feel like they're begging industry for consultation, rather than meaningfully being consulted by industry. (Kim Garritty/CBC News)

Saskatchewan First Nations took their concerns about duty-to-consult legislation to the provincial legislature on Wednesday. 

Evan Taypotat, chief of Kahkewistahaw First Nation from the province's southeast, said he recently returned from a trip to British Columbia and found that Saskatchewan was "30 years behind the rest of the country" on duty to consult. 

Duty-to-consult legislation requires First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Canada to be consulted before third parties do things like land development and resource extraction.

"In British Columbia industry asks the First Nations people for permission. In Saskatchewan First Nations people have to beg industry for permission and that is wrong," Taypotat said.

He said free, prior and informed consent does not exist in the province, despite it called for in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which the federal government adopted through Federal Bill C-15 last year. 

Taypotat was joined by chiefs and officials from George Gordon First Nation, Onion Lake Cree Nation and Birch Narrows Dene Nation at the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina on Wednesday.

Betty Nippi-Albright, NDP MLA for Saskatoon Centre, brought forward a bill on Wednesday asking the government to properly and meaningfully consult with First Nations in Saskatchewan. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Opposition NDP critic for truth and reconciliation Betty Nippi-Albright introduced Bill 609 on Wednesday. 

The new bill would make it so communities are asked how they want to be consulted — what meaningful consultation means to them — and would make it so there isn't a "cookie-cutter" approach.

Nippi-Albright said currently, First Nations are consulted on matters through registered letters or "one-off" meetings between industry and impacted communities. She said the government also sends notices when Crown land will be sold adjacent to reserves. 

The current process doesn't take into account First Nations Treaty territories, Nippi-Albright said. 

"Indigenous peoples have never been asked and this is history, things have been done to them and never with them, from the start," she said. 

She said the bill was created and designed in discussions with First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, and has been a work in progress since she was elected.

Part of the bill also would ensure First Nations communities are considered first when the province sells Crown land, a process typically completed at auction. The leaders in attendance on Wednesday said these sales can restrict access to practising treaty rights to hunting, fishing and gathering. 

That hit home for people in Onion Lake Cree Nation. Councillor Hubert Pahtayken said the band is affected by land sales, particularly when parcels of land are sold to private buyers.

"We used to hunt on this land. We used to trap and pick medicines in this piece of land the province sold," Pahtayken said. 

"On these lands, a lot of my ancestors died, or are buried on these lands. Without consultation to the people, they sell them, for whatever reason. The province doesn't look at our situations."

'We know there are issues'

Saskatchewan's Minister for Government Relations Don McMorris was frank when asked about duty to consult on Wednesday. 

"We know that there are issues around duty to consult. We hear it from First Nations, we've heard it from Métis organizations, we hear it from industry as well," McMorris said. 

He said he has heard the way engagement and consultation was happening was one of the biggest concerns that existed with the current legislation.

For example, he said in some cases industry will send a fax to a band office and consider that consultation. He said that is not enough.

He suggested a policy designed to inform industry of what is required to properly consult with First Nations 

McMorris said the provincial government would contact each of the First Nations communities in the province, as well as industry, over the summer months and into the fall to hear out their concerns regarding the legislation.

He said the goal is to come out of those engagement sessions and develop a policy to address the concerns all parties have, ideally one that serves all involved parties better.