EDMONTON – Onion Lake Cree Nation has filed a lawsuit against the Alberta government saying its sovereignty act is an infringement on treaty rights.
The nation is seeking a declaration from the Court of King’s Bench that the act unjustifiably infringes on treaty rights and is of no force and effect.
Onion Lake Chief Henry Lewis announced the legal action Monday at the River Cree Resort and Casino in Enoch, Alta.
Lewis said in a statement that the province made no effort to consult with the community and that the act is offensive to the spirit and intent of Treaty 6.
“Not once did the government of Alberta meet with us about the proposed law to ask input into how it would impact us,” said Lewis. “Even the minister of Indigenous relations admitted that not enough consultation had been done.
“What does that say about the government of Alberta’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples when the minister in charge of Indigenous relations says more could have been done?”
The Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, also known as Bill 1, was passed on Dec. 8 and has been criticized by other First Nations and Indigenous organizations.
The legislation is Premier Danielle 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.
Saskatchewan has a sovereignty bill before its legislature — Bill 88 — that would also affect Onion Lake Cree Nation as the community straddles the boundary between Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“The government of Saskatchewan still has an opportunity to withdraw Bill 88 and hear from us before a second piece of unconstitutional law is passed,” said Lewis in a news release.
The statement of claim says that the Alberta sovereignty act violates the rights of the people of Onion Lake Cree Nation to pursue their traditional ceremonies and avocations, such as fishing and hunting.
The claim also says that the act negates the guarantees of livelihood and freedom that Treaty 6 was made to protect.
Smith’s office said it doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.
“Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is constitutional and does not interfere or undermine Indigenous and treaty rights,” it said.
Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said Smith and her United Conservative government have ignored warnings from First Nations leaders.
“Today’s court challenge is the direct result of the UCP’s utter failure to respect and uphold their duty to consult with First Nations,“ Sabir said in a news release. ”It’s an avoidable setback for reconciliation and a blow to economic certainty.“
Onion Lake Cree Nation has a population over 6,000 and is approximately 270 kilometres east of Edmonton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2022.
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