Saskatchewan’s governing party voted unanimously Thursday to pass Bill 88, also known as the Saskatchewan or Sask. First Act.
The Act, introduced last fall, confirms the province’s autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources, and puts it on a legal collision course with First Nations, who have inherent rights through treaties to govern themselves and a special relationship to their land and resources.
“How can this government begin to understand or think they know or know better of what First Nations are talking about when it comes to treaty?” said Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), in an interview. “They don’t.”
Cameron said First Nations leaders, elders and community members are concerned about the Act.
Alberta passed similar legislation last December after amending a provision that granted Premier Danielle Smith’s cabinet the power to bypass the legislature and rewrite laws as it saw fit.
The new Sask. First Act “asserts its exclusive legislative jurisdiction under the Constitution of Canada, and in particular, those matters listed in Sections 92 and 92A of the Constitution Act, 1867.”
“First Nations (in Saskatchewan) have always maintained that they did not relinquish, cede nor surrender rights to natural resources at the time of Treaty negotiations,” FSIN added in a statement.
Rather First Nations agreed to open the land for European settlement, sharing only six inches of topsoil or the “depth of a plough” for agricultural purpose.
Cameron said FSIN is considering legal action and even putting up blockades.
“Obviously, we are going to exhaust every avenue politically, legally, technically,” he told APTN News.
“In the end, our First Nations are ready to put up blockades to protect our lands and waters and our resources.”
Michelle LeClair, vice-president of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, is also questioning the Act.
“Number 1, we weren’t consulted. Number 2, there was an introduction in the House that First Nations and Métis be able to speak to committee about the constitutionality of the Act, (but) that was denied by committee and denied by the Saskatchewan government.
“So there’s a lot of problems with the Saskatchewan First Act.”
LeClair also feels the Act does not respect Indigenous rights to self-governance.
On Wednesday, the bill was discussed at committee for more than five hours.
Nicole Sarauer, the Opposition justice critic, wanted to have Indigenous leaders who travelled to attend committee participate as witnesses and question Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre, but that motion was denied by government members on the committee.
“This government’s MO [modus operandi] has been to shut out First Nations and Métis leaders at every step along the way,” Sarauer said in the legislature.