Alberta premier apologizes, tries to clarify comment about First Nations

EDMONTON – Premier Danielle Smith says she is sorry if anyone misinterpreted earlier remarks to conclude she was equating Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta to the systemic and horrific abuse of First Nations people in Canada.

Smith said Wednesday that was not her intention and she was merely stating both Alberta and First Nations share a common adversary as they assert independence in their areas of authority.

“If my comments were misconstrued, I absolutely apologize for it because my intention was to demonstrate that we have a common problem with Ottawa,” Smith told the house.

“Ottawa, I think, unfortunately, treats First Nations with disrespect and they also treat provinces with disrespect.”

In the legislature Tuesday, Smith equated Alberta’s fight with the federal government to that of First Nations when responding to NDP questions about her sovereignty act and Indigenous consultation.

“The way I’ve described it to the chiefs that I’ve spoken with is that they have fought a battle over the last number of years to get sovereignty respected and to extract themselves from the paternalistic Indian Act,” Smith told the house Tuesday.

“We get treated the exact same way by Ottawa. They interfere in our jurisdiction all the time, and we are looking forward to pushing back and being treated exactly like Quebec.”

NDP Indigenous relations critic Richard Feehan said any kind of linkage to the horrific abuse of First Nations through residential schools, the ’60s Scoop and cultural deracination is intolerable and called for Smith to apologize.

“Indigenous people are still tirelessly fighting so that their culture, language and existence remains,” he said.

“To compare her fights with Ottawa over issues like fertilizer policy is a complete failure of understanding of the atrocities Indigenous people have suffered.”

Smith has come under fire from First Nations chiefs for not consulting them on her sovereignty act.

They are calling for it to be withdrawn, but Smith reiterated the bill, which passed third reading a week ago, promises treaty rights will be respected.

“We won’t be withdrawing Bill 1,” said Smith.

Bill 1 declares Alberta will fight for what it considers its powers under the Constitution, but treaty chiefs say those powers would imperil their rights and agreements with the federal government.

The leaders of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 in Alberta have condemned the act as an affront to rights and the rule of law. The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has also called for it to be withdrawn.

Earlier Wednesday, Smith held a previously scheduled meeting with Treaty 6 chiefs.

Afterward, the chiefs reiterated in a news release their opposition to Bill 1.

“It was clear from our discussions that Premier Smith does not understand treaty or our inherent rights nor does she respect them,” said the chiefs.

“We do not agree that an invitation on the day of the (Nov. 29) Throne Speech is an inclusive approach to hearing Albertans and Indigenous voices in a meaningful way for such a dangerous piece of legislation.

“The premier will not dictate how we will be consulted. We point her once again to the duty to consult to learn more about how to engage and work with us appropriately.”

Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson, asked by reporters about Smith’s Tuesday response, said: “I didn’t really hear that comment, to be honest with you.”

Asked about the criticism from the Treaty 6 chiefs, Wilson said he was at the meeting and felt it was constructive.

“The engagement was really good,” he said.

“(Smith) made it clear that we didn’t want to infringe on treaty rights.”

Wilson has said more consultation should have been done with Indigenous leaders on the bill.

The legislation is Smith’s marquee policy, aimed at asserting Alberta’s rights within Canada.

The bill stipulates her government can take action when responding to what it deems federal overreach into provincial areas of authority, such as energy development. The response includes telling provincial agencies to flout federal laws.

It has been called legally questionable given it asserts the Alberta legislature – rather than the courts – gets to decide how to interpret the Constitution.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2022.

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