Treaty chiefs oppose proposed sovereignty act, say it infringes on rights

At a joint news conference on Friday in Edmonton, the treaty chiefs spoke out against the Alberta government's proposed sovereignty act. The chiefs said the treaties were made with the Crown, and not the provincial government. (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)
At a joint news conference on Friday in Edmonton, the treaty chiefs spoke out against the Alberta government's proposed sovereignty act. The chiefs said the treaties were made with the Crown, and not the provincial government. (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)

All of the treaty chiefs in Alberta are publicly opposing Premier Danielle Smith's proposed sovereignty act.

The chiefs representing Treaties 6, 7, and 8 spoke at a news conference Friday to speak out against the proposed legislation, that would allow Alberta to opt out of federal measures deemed harmful to provincial interests.

"We must uphold the Treaty, it is an international agreement and the highest law to govern the land, resources, and our Peoples. We have never ceded this territory nor do we ever plan to," said Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation

Few details of the legislation's substance have been released, but Smith has it would be among the first to be introduced in the upcoming legislature session. Smith told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Friday that it would be called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

At the joint news conference in Edmonton, the chiefs said their treaties were made with the Crown, not Alberta, and that the provincial government has no say over their lands and territories.

"Premier Smith wants to do a sovereignty act well, we certainly didn't enter into a treaty with her. If Canada is going to disagree among themselves, let them sort out those problems. Don't use our territories," said Regena Crowchild, Tsuut'ina Nation Treaty 7 adviser.

Chief Alexis also said the bill could allow the province to extract resources at an unprotected rate, exacerbating the fight for their rights to land and resources and moving them away from a sustainable future.

Lack of consultation

Chief Darcy Dixon of Bearspaw First Nation in Treaty 7 territory said Smith's bill is a prime example of politics moving ahead without Indigenous consultation.

"We are shown by politicians and political parties in this country — now known as Canada — that Indigenous Peoples are not a priority nor are we even considered in their planning, policy-making and legislation," Dixon said.

The chiefs called the bill a ploy to undermine Indigenous rights.

"I think the authority is with those nations that are in treaty territories. If there's any discussion that I would like to get involved in about the sovereignty act, it would be based on Treaty 8, not on a provincial government," said Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey.

The sovereignty act is one of many directives mentioned in a mandate letter Smith put forward to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

The chiefs said there has been zero consultation between them and Smith over the act, although last week Shandro said the bill would be ready by December.

In an emailed statement to CBC, a government spokesperson said the act won't repeal any Indigenous rights, and that the Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson hopes to meet with the chiefs to discuss the act in person.

"The Government of Alberta acknowledges the concerns of the chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 regarding the proposed Alberta sovereignty act," Smith's press secretary Rebecca Polak said in the statement.

"We are committed to ensuring the legislation specifically states nothing within the act is to be construed as abrogating or derogating from any existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada that are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982."

Alberta policing

The provincial government has also proposed the idea of ditching the RCMP for an Alberta provincial police force.

Crowchild said it would be another example of the government potentially infringing on treaties, as the RCMP or "red coats," are directly mentioned in them.

"Rightfully, I guess we can say we support the RCMP because they were part of our treaty makings. But, they have to do their job properly and upkeep their end of the deal," Crowchild said.

The next session of the Alberta Legislature is to begin Nov. 29.