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Onion Lake Cree Nation taking another province to court over primacy law

Onion Lake Cree Nation is to start court action against Saskatchewan over its Saskatchewan First Act. The move will add to the first nation’s court action against Alberta over its sovereignty law.

Speaking in Saskatoon on Thursday Okimaw (Chief) Henry Lewis, the Council of Onion Lake Cree Nation with support from Meadow Lake, FSIN, Saskatchewan NDP and others said Indigenous nations existed on these lands before the creation of the provinces and the treaties entered into with the crown specify that the ownership of resources go no deeper than the depth of a plow.

“The Saskatchewan First Act claims to assert and confirm Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction without an acknowledgement whatsoever of the Treaty. You share no end resources with our nation and other nations who made treaties with the crown. We remind Saskatchewan premier Moe that no province has the authority to unilaterally change our treaty relationship which the Saskatchewan First Act will do by ignoring our sovereign jurisdiction and treaty relationship. Our treaties are the law of the land,” said Lewis.

The chief also raised the issue of the ongoing sale, lease and disposition of crown lands which are in the traditional lands on Onion Lake. He said Onion Lake will not allow Saskatchewan “to run roughshod over their lands and resources” in advancing its economic agenda.

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Onion Lake’s legal counsel, Michael Marchen from Hladun and Co. explained that the First Nation’s statement of claim contends that the Saskatchewan First law infringes his client’s traditional treaty rights, negates their livelihood and freedom and the government’s failure to consult is a breach of the spirit of the Treaty Six nation.

Marchen said that while an amendment was added to say that nothing in the new law infringes on the rights of Indigenous people, he says there is still an issue that the Saskatchewan First law claims an exclusive legislative jurisdiction. He contends that exclusivity excludes everyone else.

“The rights that the bill claims to be protected and the premier claims to be protected are actually set by definition by the government of Saskatchewan. And so there isn’t that reciprocal recognition of sovereignty. There isn’t that reciprocal recognition of jurisdiction through Treaty,” said Marchen.

The lawyer also referenced the lack of consultation with First Nations that was noted by the committee on intergovernmental affairs and justice which met on March 15.  Also that the Saskatchewan First Act relied on the natural resource transfer agreement of 1930.

Onion Lake has six months to serve the statement of claim. Once served, the justice minister will have 20 days to respond, said Marchen.

The Saskatchewan First Act gained royal assent on April 6.

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