Treaty 8 First Nations chiefs issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling for cooler heads to prevail amid indications the desire to separate from Canada is growing among people in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“As chiefs, with our united voices and on behalf of our 22 member nations — with clear conscience — declare we are strongly opposed to the idea of separation from Canada,” the chiefs said in a news release.
The statement came as new Ipsos polling data suggests a growing support for secession in the Prairies’ two westernmost provinces and as a group calling itself Wexit Canada is in the process of applying to Elections Canada to become a federal political party.
“It is a bad idea,” the chiefs said. “The separation of Alberta and Saskatchewan would impose an international border through the heart of the Treaty No. 8 territory.
“We believe that the silent majority of Albertans know the complexity of secession and would rather remain in a great country.”
The chiefs acknowledged growing frustration among many in Alberta over a sputtering economy that has struggled to regain its footing after a spectacular crash in oil prices in 2014.
“The economy affects everyone, not just a few,” the chiefs said, adding they believe secession would be costly “for the people.”
“Legally, and in all cases, the Crown is obligated to honour and respect our treaty and inherent rights as recognized and affirmed by the Constitution Act… and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
There has been increasing talk among some in Alberta and Saskatchewan ever since last month’s federal election, which saw Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — who saw more of their candidates elected than any other party across the country — fail to win a single seat in those two provinces.
Some in Alberta have expressed frustration with an inability to move forward on pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion or Energy East, as well as with legislation like Bill C-48 and Bill C-69, which some view as a hindrance to Canada’s energy sector.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey said he believes separation could hinder Alberta’s ability to bring its oil to tidewater and to global markets outside the U.S.
“In the bigger picture of things, there are many factors to consider such as the technology shift, Alberta’s quota limitations and the nature of the royalty system that was built in Alberta.”
Noskey added that although Alberta’s oil and gas sector continues to generate a “vast amount” of dollars, he believes people should think about how “Alberta continuously rewards the shareholders by cutting corporate taxes, hoping that their investors won’t do business elsewhere.”
“Alberta is a competitive market for capital, however, that money leaves this country,” he said. “The shareholders are the only beneficiaries of this industry.”
“Treaty 8 holds the third-largest resource of bitumen in the world,” Noskey said. “Perhaps Albertans should work together with us on a strategic approach to change the way the Alberta government does business whereby everyone benefits from this industry.”
Noskey also said any move towards separating from Canada would violate a treaty agreement to share land.
“Any process of separation which may take place without maintaining the true spirit and intent of our treaty, and without the consent of our member nations, would be contrary to constitutional and international law,” he said.
“Canada is still the greatest country in the world. Let’s not give that up because of feelings of alienation or a downturn in economy.”