First Nations leaders pan Sask. First Act, threaten legal action and blockades
First Nations leaders have a message for Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Kill the controversial Saskatchewan First Act or face deadlock, legal action and other consequences.
“We have mandates from the Chiefs in Assembly to move forward legally [and] politically,” said Bobby Cameron, chairman of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, on Friday afternoon.
“And we’re close to the point where we’re going to start the blockade.”
Cameron and dozens of other chiefs gathered in Saskatoon Friday as what they said was a public display of power and unity against the act.
The provincial government introduced the Saskatchewan First Act this fall, calling it an assertion of the province’s exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources and other rights. This claim is based on the controversial 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement between the federal and provincial governments.
However, First Nations leaders were not consulted before this 1930 agreement was negotiated.
They also say that Native American rights and numbered treaties — most of which predate the founding of the province of Saskatchewan by decades — supersede any provincial law. This principle has been upheld in numerous recent rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, the United Nations and other bodies, they note.
Cameron said legal action will be taken and the blockades could begin in the new year. That will be up to individual communities, Cameron said, but the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations will be there to support them.
The resources the province is trying to assert jurisdiction over “are for our unborn children,” Cheryl Kahpeaysewat, chief of Moosomin First Nation, said Friday.
“Our ancestors didn’t sign resources. They only signed up to the depth of the plow for farming,” she said, citing the text of one of the numbered contracts.
“Nothing at Saskatchewan First [Act] honors our treaties.”
Leaders say the Saskatchewan government’s enactment of the Saskatchewan First Act once again ignores First Nations rights and history.
Tammy Cook-Searson, leader of the Indian band Lac La Ronge, said the act could violate access to traditional hunting and fishing practices and shows “complete disregard” for First Nations people who live off the land.
Chief Roger Redman of Standing Buffalo First Nation said the provincial government had “no basis for this law.”
“We will not stand idly by. We have confessed to genocide imposed on our people for over 100 years,” Redman said.
In an email, a provincial government official said the Saskatchewan law will not violate the rights of indigenous people and the treaties, noting that Section 35 of the constitutional law recognizes those rights.
The spokesman’s email also noted that part of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Act – Section 2-43 – states that no provincial statute “overrides or derogates from the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples of Canada set forth in Section 35 of the Constitution shall be recognized and ratified Act, 1982.”
The Saskatchewan First Act is one of several recent moves by the provincial government to push for more autonomy, including the possible creation of a new police force and a new method of collecting taxes.
The provincial government is also threatening to refuse to enforce new federal gun laws.
Proponents of these ideas say Saskatchewan has been hampered by the federal government’s overreach, while critics say such moves make things more cumbersome, expensive and potentially unconstitutional.