Singh condemns Saskatchewan First Act for 'ignoring Indigenous treaty rights'

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh cited the need for 'economic inclusion' in remarks on the Saskatchewan First Act to Indigenous leaders.

Singh condemns Saskatchewan First Act for 'ignoring Indigenous treaty rights'
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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"Here in Saskatchewan, you're up against a tough government not recognizing and respecting Indigenous rights. The Saskatchewan First Act is legislation that ignores the rights of Indigenous people. And I want you to know that I think that's wrong," Singh told the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations All-Chiefs Assembly.

In April, Onion Lake Cree Nation launched legal action against the Saskatchewan government over the legislation, claiming the assertion of provincial autonomy over natural resources infringes treaty rights.

"We're putting a statement of claim against the exclusive jurisdiction on land and resources, [which would have] a negative impact on our hunting and treaty and gathering rights," said Onion Lake Chief Henry Lewis.

The First Nation straddles the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, which have launched similar legal action against the latter over the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

"We have tried to negotiate in good faith with the provincial government — including Alberta — with no avail. They're still going with the status quo," he said.

According to Singh, economic inclusion is a must but can only happen if Canada changes its approach to economic development. 

"For too long, the approach around economic development has put billions of dollars into billionaires' pockets, but we don't focus enough on the benefits to local communities," he said.

Singh supported comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month, who committed Canada to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) as a mechanism for guaranteed consultation.

"When we're fighting, it's no benefit to anyone," said Singh, stipulating that meaningful partnerships 'get things done' and benefit everyone when treaty rights are honoured.

"We will continue to work with provinces to ensure that they are also moving forward on the path of reconciliation," Trudeau told reporters in April.

"It's also about building a strong economy for the future as we look to develop the critical minerals and natural resources needed for the coming years, as we look to build a stronger future with great jobs across the country."

During his engagement with the Assembly, Singh also took questions from treaty members on the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement.

"I support the idea that any development on Indigenous land should happen in a partnership with Indigenous people," he said. "It should not be forced on Indigenous people, nor should it happen without any benefit to them."

On April 5, federal Justice Minister David Lametti allegedly opened the door to revoking the 1930s Natural Resources Transfer Agreement with the prairie provinces, a claim he vehemently denied despite saying he would not take an "uncontroversial course of action."

"The federal Justice Minister says he will look at rescinding the 1930s Natural Resources Transfer Agreements that gave control over natural resources to Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba," said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

"On what basis does the federal Justice Minister think he has the authority to unilaterally strip Saskatchewan and the other western provinces of our constitutional authority over natural resources?" he asked.

Moe accused Lametti of spewing an "outrageous" and "ill-informed comment" on agreements entrenched in the Canadian constitution.

When asked about his minister's comments, Trudeau said Ottawa would guarantee Indigenous consultations on developing natural resources. 

"As a federal government, we have been very clear that reconciliation is an essential priority, not just for Canada as a moral imperative, but as the right thing to do for our country to fix and counter generations of colonial and extraordinarily damaging practices." 

Singh concurred "there were a lot of laws" that ignored treaty rights.

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