Lack of treaty commissioner hurting reconciliation, says prof

The failure to appoint a new treaty commissioner for Saskatchewan is a setback to vital reconciliation efforts, says a University of Saskatchewan professor.

'The future of Saskatchewan rests on reconciliation': Ken Coates

University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates is concerned it's been nine months since the term of Saskatchewan's last treaty commissioner ended. (Jason Warick)

The failure to name a new treaty commissioner is hurting the province's reconciliation efforts, says a University of Saskatchewan professor.

This is not a small thing you put off to the corner of your desk.- Ken Coates, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy

The post has been vacant for nine months.

The treaty commissioner is a leader in reconciliation. The commissioner also brings together governments and First Nations to help everyone honour the treaty promises.

"The future of Saskatchewan rests on reconciliation. This is not a small thing you put off to the corner of your desk," said Ken Coates, a Canada Research Chair with the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

"This has to become central to how this province operates. The treaty commissioner was doing an excellent job in that regard."

Treaty work suffering: former commissioner

Former treaty commissioner Bill McKnight agreed with Coates. He said much of that vital work is on hold or is faltering.

McKnight said that's unacceptable.

"Unless there's someone to promote them, to identify them and someone to speak to the treaty issue, from both sides, it's not going to be implemented," McKnight said.

McKnight, who also served as Indian Affairs minister in the Brian Mulroney government, said a new commissioner is urgently needed.

New commissioner expected soon

The treaty commissioner is a non-partisan, neutral position designed to educate and bring together all parties related to the numbered treaties in Saskatchewan.

The province has been a leader on this front. The commissioner has helped to curb misunderstanding and racism, McKnight said. It has also decreased the amount of costly legal action by helping all sides come together to negotiate.
Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Bill McKnight said Saskatchewan needs to name a new treaty commissioner as soon as possible. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

The commissioner has been central to bringing treaty education into schools and to the treaty land entitlement process, McKnight said. That process has compensated Saskatchewan First Nations for treaty land and benefits promised but not delivered. Advocates say it's been a major economic driver and job creator for First Nations people in Saskatchewan.

Past commissioners have included former Saskatoon mayor Cliff Wright, current Saskatchewan Human Rights commissioner David Arnot, and former Saskatoon Tribal Council chief George Lafond.

In an emailed statement, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government "is committed to advancing treaty and self-government negotiations in genuine partnership on a nation-to-nation basis."

She said it is working with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to find a suitable candidate. She said a decision is "expected to be rendered soon."

No one from the federation was available to comment.

About the Author

Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.