‘Our position is treaty’: FSIN Chief responds to natural resource comments
A comment made by the federal justice minister that resulted in an outcry from the Prairie premiers is generating comments from other politicians and stakeholders.
Federal Minister David Lametti was at the Assembly of First Nations’ Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on April 5 and was asked to rescind the 1930s Natural Resources Transfer Agreement.
“I can’t pronounce right now, but I do commit to looking at that,” was the response given by Lametti, which caused Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to take to Twitter, calling the comment “dangerous and divisive,” and saying the federal government has an agenda to strip provinces of their jurisdiction and autonomy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Winnipeg on Wednesday and addressed the outcry, saying the Prairie premiers are not taking their responsibilities towards the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) seriously.
“Let me be very clear, the minister of Justice said no such thing. If you actually look at his remarks it is very clear that we are talking about the importance of the federal government living up to our responsibilities under UNDRIP, something that unfortunately the Prairie premiers have not taken seriously, and they are instead trying to elevate fears that have absolutely no grounding in truth,” Trudeau said.
“We know we need to move forward in true reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous peoples, and that’s something we certainly hope we’re going to be able to work on with the premiers and with Indigenous peoples to be able to grow the economy and create those great jobs, including in natural resources that are going to be there for decades to come as we move towards a net zero world.”
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Pierre Poilievre took to Twitter as well to give his two cents by quote-tweeting Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s and Premier Scott Moe’s tweet, calling Lametti’s comment at the AFN assembly an “attack.”
“Trudeau’s Justice Minister David Lametti threatened to overturn the constitution & take federal control over provincial resources. I’ll never allow this attack by the costly coalition on our prairie resource workers. I’ll put westerners in control of their resources & lives,” read Poilievre’s tweet.
Global News reached out to Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron for his take on the Twitter beef.
“They can play politics all they want. Our position is treaty,” Cameron said.
He said the FSIN fully intends to pursue its comments about rescinding the Natural Resource Transfer Agreement.
Cameron said he wasn’t sure if Lametti was just trying to appease the crowd or not, but he did have some things to say about him.
“I’ll tell you this about David Lametti: he’s accessible, he listens, and he is trying to do what is right.”
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He called the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement an illegal document, noting it was never approved by First Nations and not supported by treaty rights holders.
“We’re from the perspective that our inherent treaty rights were here long before any provincial government was formed, long before this country of Canada was ever formed. And this is what people need to understand.”
“The premiers of Canada don’t realize that our treaties were signed with the British crown, international law, not provincial law, not federal law. And under treaty, clearly there was no discussion, no agreement about natural resources. It was only to share the depth of a plow, to share the land topsoil, six inches of topsoil,” Cameron said.
He added it impacts hunting and trapping, and also damages the environment.
“You’re not going to come into the backyards of our First Nations communities, not anymore. We’ll either see you in court, or we’ll see you on the land. Simple as that.”
Frank Tough is a professor of native studies, director of the Metis Archival Project and a historical geographer at the University of Alberta. He said the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement is particularly important for the Prairie province governments, and up until this week, not many people knew about the agreement.
“This is a very important issue, control over lands and resources. Whether you’re going the development path of Ralph Klein — he couldn’t have done that if the province didn’t have control over the oil sands — or Allan Blakeney, the former premier of Saskatchewan. His whole crown corporations generating economic activity for the provinces as crown corporations, would have been impossible without the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement,” Tough said.
He said the agreement transfers the federal crown interest in lands and resources to the provinces. But he said the second clause protects the existing interest in lands and resources.
“If you’re a homestead guy, you have your homestead and you’ve completed your duties, you want your title. Well, just because the authorities change from the federal government to the provincial government, a provincial government can’t come along and appropriate your land.”
Tough said there is some explicit protection for Indigenous interests in the agreement.
“That would be references to Treaty Indians, so not all Indigenous people.”
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He also noted a clause touching on non-crown interest in land, which he said would pertain to homesteaders at the time.
“I think it could be argued, and this is where I break from conventional wisdom, it could be argued that the treaty is a non-crown interest in the land. If so, then the treaty, or some parts of the treaties are protected by the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement. That’s a very different interpretation.”
He said if this argument was won in court it would strengthen the duty to consult, and would be a good basis to argue comprehensively for royalty payments.
“I would say probably not all impact benefit agreements are equal, but I think this would be a good platform, and it would also be good to consider whether it’s something that might be dealt with at a provincial level, instead of a band by band level.”
Tough said there are some views about getting rid of the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement as a whole, but that could result in some uncertain consequences.
“The other approach, it might be a pragmatic approach, which would be, if everyone is in the spirit of reconciliation, to look at these Natural Resource Transfer Agreement amendments to our constitution, and see how they can be used to implement a better distribution of wealth.”
He added that the agreement could be amended as well if the provinces and federal government came to a mutual agreement, noting updates have been made on things like water in the past.
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