Politics was never on the radar for Betty Nippi-Albright, however, years of working in the health care system, witnessing the racism Indigenous people were facing and concern for her grandchildren’s future, compelled her to run in Saskatchewan’s provincial election in 2020.
“I thought as a woman, as an Indigenous woman, we’re on the bottom of the ladder. I have an education. I have a voice. If I don’t use that education to make a better life for my grandchildren, in particular my granddaughters, they’re the ones who are going to have to do this,” says Nippi-Albright on the latest episode of Face to Face.
Nippi-Albright comes from a long line of politicians. Her great-grandfather signed the adhesion to Treaty 4 and her brothers have been involved in First Nations politics.
But Nippi-Albright said running for political office in the province of Saskatchewan was a whole new world.
“In Saskatchewan, we’re still very much racist,” says Nippi-Albright, who is Saulteaux and Cree from Kinistin Saulteaux Nation. “As a First Nation, a highly educated woman, the obstacles I face to get to where I’m at, is unreal. If I was a First Nations man, I would have been elevated and paraded around all over and saying look at this person,” says Nippi-Albright, who was elected MLA for Saskatoon Centre in 2020.
“But because I was First Nations, woman, vocal, I was too scary.”
In the lead-up to the election, Nippi-Albright says she was also being vilified and ridiculed when campaigning.
“I was told, ‘you Indians get free money, you Indians get free everything.’ So, the racism I faced just to get elected was very difficult,” says Nippi-Albright.
Unfortunately, for Nippi-Albright, who is a residential school survivor, things didn’t get much better when she entered the halls of the provincial legislature as an elected official.
“I was stalked. I had to have the police involved because I was getting threats. I was given some information that probably wasn’t the best information, where I was told to look the other way, don’t engage. But you go a whole year of having messages sent to you, there comes a point where silence is consent, so I had to speak up,” says Nippi-Albright.
At one point, Nippi-Albright had considered running for the leadership of the provincial NDP. Despite having the backing of Indigenous organizations for her bid, she decided against seeking the leadership over concerns about the impact on her personal life and the belief the Saskatchewan establishment was not ready for an “outspoken, First Nations woman leading a major party.”
Nippi-Albright says she doesn’t think the province will be ready for an Indigenous woman leading a major party by the time the next provincial election rolls around in October 2024. She believes the province is “decades behind” the times and “not progressive.”
“There’s a lot of tokenization. There’s a lot of lip service. And that’s not enough anymore. All the platitudes in the world, are not it,” says Nippi-Albright. “Start honouring those treaties. Make some real change. The duty to consult, the province is putting money out there for consultation so they can refresh a ten-year-old policy. They’re just putting lipstick on an old document and passing it off as new,” says Nippi-Albright who is the opposition critic for First Nations and Metis Relations, and Truth and Reconciliation.
“If they want reconciliation, walk your talk.”
Nippi-Albright says its time the provincial government stops doing land acknowledgments while selling off crown lands without consulting First Nations.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) recently demanded that the Province of Saskatchewan immediately cease the sale of Crown lands.
FSIN says the dispossession of crown lands “negatively impacts the First Nations’ abilities to exercise their inherent and Treaty right to hunt, fish, trap and gather, and to fulfill the Treaty Land Entitlement and Specific Claims settlement agreements.”