By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon
Onion Lake Cree Nation is suing the Saskatchewan government over autonomy legislation meant to reassert the province’s control over natural resources.
The First Nation, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, filed its statement of claim in Court of Kings Bench in Saskatoon this week, saying the Saskatchewan First Act infringes on treaty rights.
“Our Nation has consistently spoken out against this law as it is contrary to our treaty, constitutional and inherent rights,” Okimaw Henry Lewis, the chief of the First Nation, said in a news release.
The First Nation is arguing the bill was enacted without input, consultation or consideration of Indigenous people, calling it utterly repugnant to the letter and spirit of the treaty.
The province has said the bill, which passed in March, is to protect Saskatchewan’s opportunity to grow without federal infringement. The NDP Opposition voted against it, saying the Saskatchewan Party government failed to consult Indigenous communities.
The bill also lets the government set up a tribunal to study the effects of federal environmental policies.
The province said in an email that the government is confident the legislation is constitutionally sound and is prepared to defend the bill against a legal challenge.
The province added the legislation does not restrict or limit existing Indigenous rights.
About 35 First Nations chiefs in Saskatchewan warned the province last December that there could be lawsuits or blockades if the legislation was not scrapped.
Lewis said Premier Scott Moe was given the opportunity to withdraw the act and go back to the drawing board.
“We still retain full access, control and jurisdiction over the natural resources in our territories and in what is now called Saskatchewan,” Lewis said.
The statement of claim argues the legislation also violates the rights of the people of Onion Lake Cree Nation to hunt, fish, trap and perform transitional ceremonies.
Onion Lake Cree Nation filed a similar lawsuit against the Alberta government last year over that province’s sovereignty act, also known as Bill 1.
“We are again challenging this similar legislation and we remind Saskatchewan that they cannot pass laws without talking to the treaty peoples and nations,” Lewis said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.
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