By Andrew Matte
Windspeaker Contributor, REGINA
Volume:28 Issue: Year: 2010
Among top complaints from chiefs, federation senators and other leaders were Saskatchewan’s plan to reduce the number of cigarettes that can be purchased tax-free on First Nations, as well as what leaders complained was a lack of consultation from governments with First Nations in the province.
Other issues, including the treatment of First Nations children placed in foster care, gang violence, funding for First Nation initiatives and rural Saskatchewan roads were included in dozens of speeches made during the assembly held in Regina on June 9 and 10.
The strongest words came from Gordon First Nation Chief Glen Pratt, who slammed the province over its duty to consult, an obligation that springs from Supreme Court of Canada decisions that have ruled that government must consult First Nations whenever decisions are made that affect treaty and territorial rights.
Pratt urged chiefs and other leaders to participate in civil disobedience and other non-traditional means of settling disputes, rather than go to the courts to argue their cases.
“Let’s create another Oka to deal with this problem once and for all. The existing process isn’t working. This will get us the results we want ... Unless we join together and create uncertainty, then we’re not going to be dealt with in a timely manner,” Pratt said to applause from the crowd. “It’s time to slap back.
“Legal action comes second. Taking political action comes first. We need to teach our young people how to take a stand.” (Pratt was critical of the province for too often leaving out Aboriginal peoples whenever it makes economic plans.
“It is the goal of the province of Saskatchewan to keep us out of the economic development of this province,” Pratt said.
“This is like economic oppression,” he said.
Pratt also urged First Nations leaders to renegotiate deals with the province and developers because the real estate boom in recent years has made all land more valuable. He said land where developers are seeking natural resources is particularly valuable.
“The land is worth 10 to 20 times what it used to be worth,” he said. “The value of land has increased ... They’re auctioning off our mineral resources, and they are taking bids from big industrial players from other countries.”
Senator George PeeAce was critical of both the federation and the Saskatchewan government for its handling of the tobacco tax issue.
PeeAce said the province’s plan to introduce a new tax was illegal because the exemption is protected in deals between the federation and the federal government. PeeAce also slammed his colleagues for not doing enough to protect First Nation rights.
“Someone needs to put their foot down and say ‘hey, province, it’s up to us to tax. If we feel we need to tax, then we’ll tax.’ There’s a treaty in place (that protects) this exemption. So stay out of here,” PeeAce told the crowd.
“Brad Wall wants to come in and tax us at the reserve level if you buy more than one carton of tobacco per week. We won’t allow that to happen.”
Federation Grand Chief Guy Lonechild encouraged bands across Saskatchewan to do better when it comes to communication. He hopes First Nations will join forces whenever there is a battle with the provincial and federal governments.
“We need your help. We need to work together, speak with one voice,” Lonechild told the gathering.
Lonechild also encouraged both the provincial and First Nations governments to do more to protect First Nations children.
“There are young girls here in Regina, Saskatoon and in Prince Albert that need a voice that can be heard. There are girls being sold on the streets and we can’t let that happen,” Lonechild said, adding Aboriginal children too often wind up being cared for by non-Aboriginal foster families.
“The provincial government is taking our children out of our homes. And we can’t let that happen any longer.”
Federation Vice-chief Delbert Wapass said First Nations groups and the provincial government need to do more to battle gangs, which will help protect children, help eradicate prostitution, graffiti, street violence and drug trafficking.
“It’s one thing to say we want to do something, we want to work in partnership with First Nations to address this issue. But it’s another thing to put the resources and action behind it,” he said, adding he’s encouraging corrections officials to allow First Nations ceremonies and other events inside provincial prisons.