After meeting with Indigenous leaders on April 5, Liberal Justice Minister David Lametti says he will consider revoking the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement with the Prairie provinces.
“Those resources were given to provinces without ever asking one Indian if it was okay to do that or what benefits would the First Nations expect to receive by Canada consenting to that arrangement,” said Chief R. Donald Maracle of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
“Canada inherited rights and obligations…from the imperial treaties made with our people…We see that as foundational in our rights…being consulted on any benefit,” said Maracle.
Lametti commented he would not take an “uncontroversial” course of action.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe outright condemned Lametti on Monday, stating they would defend the jurisdiction of their respective provinces as enshrined in the Constitution.
Rebecca Polak, a spokesperson for Smith, confirmed the premier would contact Moe and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson to discuss the next steps and call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “immediately have his Justice Minister retract and apologize for these comments immediately.”
On Tuesday, Stefanson condemned the “reckless comments” of Lametti, who “[threatened] Manitoba’s control over natural resources.” She said they needed to be immediately withdrawn.
“The recent suggestion that the federal government will look at rescinding constitutional Natural Resource Transfer Agreements from the 1930s with Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta is another example of divisive disregard for the prairie provinces,” reads a statement by Stefanson.
“I will always defend Manitoba from any attempt to strip clear provincial constitutional authority over natural resources unilaterally. This needless provocation by the federal government now requires early clarification from the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister.”
In the 1930s, Ottawa transferred control over land and natural resources to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte of the Prince Albert Grand Council told Lametti the agreements impact treaty rights.
Hardlotte expressed concerns with the Saskatchewan First Act, which reaffirms provincial jurisdiction over the development of natural resources. “It’s to do with Indian natural resources,” he said on April 5.
In March, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) committed to taking legal action against Saskatchewan, stating the Act “infringes on First Nations Inherent and Treaty Rights to land, water and resources.”
In a joint statement from all three premiers, they said Trudeau needs to tell Canadians his Justice Minister did not speak on behalf of the federal government when he said he would consider revoking the 1930 Agreements with the prairie provinces and strip away their constitutional authority and control over natural resources.
“These agreements recognized that the prairie provinces have the same rights over resources as all other provinces. Those rights have been fundamental to the people and the economic autonomy of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba for nearly 100 years,” reads the statement.
Each premier agreed Lametti needed to rescind these “dangerous and divisive” comments. “The federal government cannot unilaterally change the constitution. They should not even be considering stripping resource rights away from the three prairie provinces.”
“Ottawa must back off from any plans of stripping resource rights away from Albertans,” tweeted Smith, whose government recently adopted the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, which Alberta chiefs contend is a blatant disregard of treaty rights and their access to lands without restrictions.
Late last year, Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta and Saskatchewan border, began legal action against the Alberta government. Onion Lake decried the lack of consultation and argued the Sovereignty Act negated the guarantees of rights in the treaty to “freedom and agency.”
Onion Lake First Nation Chief Henry Lewis also committed to pursuing legal action against Saskatchewan.