The Saskatchewan First Act has been a point of contention among First Nations in the province, with some chiefs warning of potential blockades if proper consultation isn’t done.
Saskatchewan’s minister of justice said she had a meeting with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Kahkewistahaw First Nation regarding the act on Wednesday, noting she was confident that it wouldn’t come to that, but Chief Evan Taypotat wondered why it took so long.
Minister Bronwyn Eyre said Thursday that the act doesn’t infringe on First Nations treaties, adding that its language comes specifically from the constitution.
Taypotat said he understands that, but added that First Nations should have been brought to the table long before this, and that they are just looking to be heard.
“The meeting was cordial, it was respectful, it was diplomatic, it was done across the table. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking for as First Nations people in Saskatchewan,” Taypotat said.
“What we don’t understand is why First Nations people were left out of the conversation. Why is the Saskatchewan Party just reaching out now?”
He said this act affects all the First Nations in the province.
“When we’re not allowed at those tables and not even asked, to us that isn’t right, and therein lies the fight.”
According to the province’s website, the act amends the constitution of Saskatchewan to “clearly confirm Saskatchewan’s sovereign autonomy and asserts Saskatchewan’s exclusive legislative jurisdiction under the Constitution of Canada over a number of areas.”
It added that this includes the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural and forestry resources, and the operation of sites that generate electricity.
Eyre said Thursday that the act is about being an honourable partner, and being treated as an honourable partner by the federal government.
“We’re tired of the double standard, we’re tired of the condescension, and frankly, the contempt,” Eyre said.
Taypotat is also looking for a kind of honourable partnership.
He noted that he speaks for Kahkewistahaw First Nation, and that no agreement was actually made regarding the Saskatchewan First Act.
Taypotat said he hopes the meeting wasn’t just a smokescreen by the provincial government, adding that actions speak louder than words.
“Premier Scott Moe wasn’t there, he sent two of his MLAs. Normally when we meet, chief to chief, we like to meet chief to premier. That didn’t happen.
“Right now, all it is is talk.”
He said there are 73 other chiefs in Saskatchewan who want the best for their people, noting that many First Nations people currently live in deplorable conditions.
“It is no secret that health is directly related to wealth.”
He said everyone wants to live a good quality life, but added that First Nations people get shut out from having that kind of life.
“We’re shut out from the province, and we’re shut out from the big companies when it comes to the sharing of resources.”
Taypotat said they are fighting so hard for this because they are looking to improve their quality of life.
He noted that if you go on any news website and look at the comments, you see racist comments from anonymous accounts telling Indigenous people to pay their taxes, or stop taking handouts.
“We don’t want free handouts, we want to work for our money. We want to have good lives on our First Nations. We want to be proud of our work, we want to be proud of ourselves, and right now that is hard with the Saskatchewan Party not bringing us to the table.”
He said this, in turn, leads to industry shutting First Nations out because it can get away with it.
In terms of whether blockading will happen in the province, Taypotat said Kahkewistahaw First Nation will lead that fight regardless of where it’s held.
“For us right now, the Mohawks are on speed dial, and they are just waiting for our call. And it is no secret that the Mohawks fight to the death,” Taypotat said.
He said that if they slow down the economy, people might start to listen.
“To be very clear, Kahkewistahaw First Nation will lead that fight. I’ve always said we want to get these deals done — in the boardroom, we’ll go to the courtroom, or on the land if we have to, and I stand by those comments.”