First Nations sick of Sask. government's 'trinkets and beads' approach to resource development: Opposition
Critical mineral claims to hundreds of square kilometres recently granted without First Nations consultation
Indigenous people will no longer tolerate the Saskatchewan government's "trinkets and beads" approach to natural resource development, says the Opposition critic on the file.
"First Nations and Métis people are tired of trinkets and beads. They're tired of getting crumbs. They want to be true partners," said Betty Nippi-Albright, Saskatchewan NDP Opposition critic for First Nations and Métis Relations.
The comments come after a First Nations research group compiled a series of maps for CBC News revealing large swaths of the province have already been claimed and leased by companies hunting for critical minerals such as lithium and helium.
Much of these hundreds of square kilometres already claimed sit adjacent to First Nations reserves or on traditional territory.
First Nations leaders, academics and others say this new "gold rush" is occurring with little consultation or partnership from the government or companies. They say there are likely billions of dollars at stake.
They say the way things are being done contradicts both the spirit and letter of the constitutional principle known as the "duty to consult" on projects affecting Indigenous communities.
Other maps show companies have been permitted to use a technique known as "horizontal drilling" to extract oil from directly below reserve land without their consent.
"First Nation and Métis people have always been excluded when it comes to decisions that are going to impact them on their traditional territories, so this is no different. Duty to consult in this province is broken," Nippi-Albright said.
There are individual examples of partnership on resource projects. This week, the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation announced a deal with a subsidiary of the Foran Mining Corporation. It includes employment for band members, preferential contracting and annual payments at its planned copper and zinc mine located 500 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. The payment amounts were not disclosed.
Sheldon Wuttunee, CEO of the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre of Excellence, which created the resource maps, said these types of deals are beneficial. But Wuttunee said "make no mistake," shared ownership of these potentially lucrative resources is the key.
Nippi-Albright said everyone benefits when Indigenous people are equal partners in the economy.
"They want to be part true partners. They want to be at those tables. They too also want to the best for their nations. They want to be true economic partners and they need to be at those tables. Again, trinkets and beads don't cut it," she said.
Minister of Energy and Resources Jim Reiter said the government is committed to respecting treaty and constitutional rights of Indigenous communities.
As for critical minerals, he said they're mostly just claims at this point. he said there is no requirement to consult First Nations until shovels are about to go into the ground.
Wuttunee, Nippi-Albright and others say that will be too late.
University of Saskatchewan law professor Benjamin Ralston said it appears the Saskatchewan government is relying on narrow legal interpretations.
"At the end of the day, you know, really all the courts do is they articulate the bare minimum legal requirement," Ralston said.
"It's not their job to come up with what is good policy or or what a functioning relationship looks like. They can only prescribe the bare minimum that the Constitution requires. That could be risky as a strategy in the long term for the government. And it's also, I would say, not conducive to reconciliation and good relations."
Ralston said the government also appears to base its position on the final written treaty documents. But as Ralston, Wuttunee and others have noted, elders and academics are now revealing problematic details that include deceptive translations and omissions during negotiations.
Though most treaties of the 1870s contain words such as "cede" and "surrender," chiefs who signed the English document with an "x" believed they were to be equal partners and had no discussions of land below the "depth of a plow."
"I think without a doubt I think it's it's relevant that we know more about what went into the treaty negotiations," he said.
Ralston said the Saskatchewan government may not feel it needs to compromise, but it may soon have no choice.
"The government of the day may not feel that they have political pressure to talk about [natural resource sharing]. But those political calculations will I think change over time. We don't want to entrench another generation of unfairness and one-sidedness in terms of resource policy."