Right in the middle of the fight for sovereignty is Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta and Saskatchewan border.
Last December 19, Onion Lake Cree Nation took legal action against the UCP for insufficient consultation on Bill 1, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. Chief Henry Lewis worries it would negate guaranteed treaty rights of “freedom and agency.”
Passed last December 8, Bill 1 provides MLAs with the ability to challenge federal overreach into provincial jurisdiction by filing a motion for debate at the legislature.
The UCP passed several amendments to the proposed legislation, including clarification on what constitutes 'harm' and limiting amendments Cabinet can make to regulatory motions only.
However, the legislation does not pass the smell test, according to First Nation leaders from Alberta.
Lewis claims they have tried to negotiate in good faith with the provincial government to no avail. “They’re still going with the status quo,” he said.
“Not once did the government of Alberta meet with us about the proposed law to ask input into how it would impact us,” he told reporters.
The lawsuit alleges Bill 1 infringes on the traditional way of life for 6,000 Onion Lake members, including ceremonies, and associations. They perceive it as a circumvention of the agreements in place between First Nations and the Crown.
Lewis said Crown land within the jurisdiction of Onion Lake Cree Nation has been sold to them, including the land within the jurisdictions of other First Nations.
“The lack of education and understanding of our experience and of treaties, that’s a big problem here,” he continued. “If the understanding was there, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The claim also stipulates that MLAs have expressed concerns about the lack of consultation with First Nations. “Even the minister of Indigenous relations admitted that not enough consultation had been done,” said Lewis.
“What does that say about the government of Alberta’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples when the minister in charge of Indigenous Relations says more could have been done?”
Treaty Six chiefs endorsed the suit, contending the Sovereignty Act blatantly disregards treaty rights and Indigenous access to lands without restrictions.
In December, APTN News reached Smith’s office for comment on the legal matter. They said they could not comment on it because it remains before the courts.
“Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is constitutional and does not interfere or undermine Indigenous and treaty rights,” it said in a statement.
On May 4, Rebel News asked Premier Danielle Smith for clarification on Indigenous consultations concerning Bill 1 and whether she felt it was sufficient.
“If you look at the very first couple of clauses of that Act, you will see it affirms the s.35 treaty rights of our Indigenous Peoples,” she said, clarifying “the act was never about interfering or impacting those rights.”
“It is about Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa, as defined by s.92 and s.92A of the Constitution.”
Smith added that her UCP government has a “tremendously positive” relationship with Alberta’s First Nations, citing the “incredibly successful” loan guarantee program from the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.
Courtesy of the program, a group of 23 First Nations will get an 11.65% stake into a northern pipeline network while creating long-term, diversified revenue streams, according to the premier.
While she did not address Indigenous consultations on the sovereignty bill, she lauded the importance of “economic reconciliation” for Alberta.
Onion Lake Cree Nation also launched legal action against Saskatchewan last month after a meeting with federal Justice Minister David Lametti opened a can of worms on sovereignty and resource development.
The First Nation sued the prairie province over Bill 88, the Saskatchewan First Act. It asserts provincial autonomy over Saskatchewan’s natural resources, which Onion Lake argues is an infringement on long-standing treaty rights.
Lametti allegedly opened the door to revoking the 1930s Natural Resources Transfer Agreement with the prairie provinces, a claim he vehemently denies despite saying he would not take an “uncontroversial” course of action.
Soon after, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would guarantee Indigenous consultations on developing natural resources moving forward.
"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," he told a reporter in April.
Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). "We will continue to work with provinces to ensure that they are also moving forward on the path of reconciliation," he said.
"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."