Indigenous

First Nations rights threatened by Sask.'s natural resource plan, leaders say

As Saskatchewan tables legislation aimed at claiming exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources, First Nations leaders are warning the plan infringes on their inherent and treaty rights.

FSIN chief says First Nations people never gave up lands and waters under treaty

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron says he is willing to work with the provincial government on equal partnership when it comes to Sask.’s natural resources. (Rob Kruk/CBC )

As Saskatchewan tables legislation aimed at claiming exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources, First Nations leaders are warning the plan infringes on their inherent and treaty rights.

After the Saskatchewan First Act was tabled Tuesday, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) issued a statement accusing the province of failing in its duty to consult with First Nations and threatening legal action. 

"It is clear that the government failed in its fiduciary obligations it owed to First Nations, and our people have always maintained that the lands and waters were never relinquished under treaty," said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. 

"First Nations continue to be excluded from discussions related to the natural resources."

FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

Cameron said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday that First Nations people have never relinquished or surrendered any lands or water. 

"We've only agreed to share the depth of a plow, some say six inches of soil, that was it," he said.

"They're breaching treaty rights, inherent rights."

The tabled legislation comes after Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe released a policy paper Oct. 11 claiming the federal government's climate change policies would cost the province $111 billion over 12 years and vowing to affirm and advance Saskatchewan's "constitutional authority and autonomy within Canada."

Cameron said he was not contacted for consultation on the paper, even though the premier has his phone number.

"It's a simple phone call, that's all it takes," Cameron said.

"They figure they know what's best and that's OK, they have their position, but our position is stronger. Our treaty rights are of international law."

Government says no infringement

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre told reporters on Wednesday she "absolutely, respectfully" disagreed with the FSIN statement.

"Nothing in this bill diminishes or distracts from anything in the Constitution in terms of section 35 of protected treaty rights, for example," she said.

"Treaty rights are entrenched obviously in the charter Section 35 but also under the Legislation Act of the province, in all our legislation. This really is about protecting natural resources and everything that we can achieve together, together with First Nations and together as a province and that's where we stand."

In a statement last week, Saskatchewan's Office of the Treaty Commissioner said "While talking about having provincial jurisdiction over resources, there continues to be no consideration to the impacts of implementing these measures to First Nation inherent rights to access those resources.

"First Nations hold inherent rights to the land and natural resources of Canada, they are not stakeholder groups, they are to be co-decision makers and acts such as these need to be written collaboratively."

Cameron said not being consulted shows that the province is not taking critical steps toward reconciliation.

"We are willing and more than ready to have [the] government understand and more importantly, work [toward] and implement direction that is coming from our First Nations communities to secure the financial resources from the natural resources that are being extracted," he said.

He said the FSIN is willing to be full equal partners with the province so that First Nations can reinvest money into helpful initiatives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Francis a reporter with CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan. She is from the Kahkewistahaw First Nation and lives in Regina. Got news tips? Send them to jennifer.francis@cbc.ca

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