Onion Lake Cree Nation suing Alberta government, premier over Sovereignty Act

A Treaty 6 First Nation has launched legal action over the Alberta Sovereignty Act, saying it infringes on treaty rights. 

Onion Lake Cree Nation filed a statement of claim on Monday in Court of King’s Bench, seeking numerous remedies including temporary and permanent injunctions, and a declaration the act unjustifiably infringes on treaty rights.

Chief Harry Lewis said the legal action comes after a lack of consultation and consent.

The statement of claim names the province, Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani, and Premier Danielle Smith. 

Lewis, members of the First Nation, and their legal counsel announced the legal action at River Cree Resort and Casino near Edmonton.

The Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act was passed last week, allowing the province the power to reject federal laws. 

The provincial government has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. None of the allegations have been proven in court. 

 Bernadene Harper stands at podium addressing the media.
Onion Lake Coun. Bernadene Harper addressed the media on Monday, saying the opportunity to improve the relationship with the premier is still a possibility. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC)

“As nations, we are deeply concerned that the state of Canada has let such an unconstitutional bill to move forward unchecked,” Lewis said.

Onion Lake Coun. Bernadene Harper said the community is open to improving relations, but take offence to the idea of the act itself. 

“I speak from the heart: Today we are here, we are alive, and we are still willing to work with the government according to the treaties that were promised to us. They made a promise when they made that final decision,” Harper said.

A woman wearing a black blazer is speaking in front of a Canadian flag.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at a press conference in Edmonton in November. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Lewis said the First Nation sent letters to the premier expressing concerns with the bill, and asking the premier to sit down with leaders and discuss the impacts, but they never received a response.

In an emailed statement to CBC, a spokesperson for the province said the Sovereignty Act is constitutional and does not interfere or undermine Indigenous and treaty rights.

The statement of claim lists the numerous ways the act allegedly infringes on treaty rights including derogating from the reciprocal promises made in the treaty, and negating the guarantees of livelihood and freedom that the treaty was made to protect.

Not just Alberta

The lawsuit comes just two weeks after First Nations chiefs from Alberta and Saskatchewan went to Ottawa and called for both provinces to scrap their respective provincial rights bills, calling them inherently undemocratic, unconstitutional and an infringement on Indigenous rights.

Onion Lake Cree Nation is located on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster.

Lewis said he expects to launch similar legal action if the Saskatchewan First Act is passed. 

Previously, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Alberta’s Sovereignty Act is a political tool for Premier Danielle Smith to pick a fight with the federal government.

Trudeau said the relationship between Ottawa and the provinces is not like a parent to a child. Each has distinct areas of jurisdiction and responsibility, he said.

Chiefs from Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 territory have all declared their opposition to the bill, stating the same arguments as the lawsuit including lack of consultation and treaty rights.

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