Correction: Name of community is Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, not Sturgeon Lake First Nation as originally reported.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) was told in no uncertain terms last week that it has no standing to deal with treaties.

The special chiefs assembly, Dec. 5 to Dec. 7, dealt with very few resolutions as the majority of the time was spent in election-mode for a new national chief.

Draft Resolution 13, Creation of a Chiefs’ Committee on Treaties, was part of a larger or omnibus package of resolutions entitled “Rights and Justice” and led to almost one hour of heated discussion on the last day of the assembly.

Among the opinions offered was a charge that the AFN’s resolutions committee was being “disingenuous” by rolling a resolution on a committee to be created to deal with both pre-Confederation treaties and treaties 1 to 11 into an omnibus bill.

“I think it’s really disingenuous to bundle a contentious treaty resolution with other very important resolutions dealing with our children. That puts us in a bad position. If we’re opposed to the treaty resolution, then we have to oppose all of the resolutions,” said Chief Lynn Acoose of Sakimay First Nation, a part of Treaty 4.

The package of resolutions also included support for a call for a national inquiry into the Sixties Scoop and removal of Indigenous children by the federal government, as well as a demand for continued, sustainable, and adequate funding to search for children who died or went missing while attending Indian residential schools.

The creation of a chiefs committee on treaties, said Acoose, violated Treaty 4’s ability to discuss implementation issues with the Crown and further contravened Canada’s United Nation’s Declaration Act.

“These kinds of moves (by the AFN)…undermine the voice of treaty from the treaty areas,” she said.

Resolution 13 called for the chiefs committee to be mandated to create terms of reference to ensure implementation principles on treaty interpretation. Those principles are to be integrated into Canada’s National Action Plan for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act. AFN was also directed to seek resources to make sure such a committee was “fully realized.”

Chiefs from Alberta joined Acoose in voicing their opposition to the resolution which says that the chiefs committee would have regional representation appointed by regional chiefs. Alberta has not had a regional chief on the AFN since 2021.

Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation Chief Sheldon Sunshine pointed out that many Treaty 8 First Nations in Alberta had withdrawn completely from AFN.

“To pass a resolution that claims to speak for, represent or create treaty interpretation principles on behalf of treaty nations to be integrated to Canadian legislation is a violation of our treaty,” said Sunshine.

“I did send AFN a letter. You don’t speak for my nation, especially when it comes to treaty because whatever you guys do is going to affect my back yard,” said Chief Kelsey Jacko of Cold Lake First Nation in Treaty 8.

He added that if he had to go to court to “fight for the best interest of my people,” he would do that.

Chief Ramona Horseman of Horse Lake First Nation, also in Treaty 8, said she had specifically attended the special chiefs assembly to speak out against Resolution 13.

“You are not allowed to discuss treaties on my behalf. You are not allowed to discuss it on behalf of my children,” said Horseman.

She accused the AFN of “imposing themselves just like the Alberta government does on us on a daily basis.”

Horseman said Alberta First Nations, which comprise Treaty 6, 7 and 8, were no longer at the AFN table and perhaps needed to reconsider that in order to be “very voiceful” when these issues are being considered. However, she said, that still did not mean treaties would be on AFN’s agenda.

“If you want to talk about treaties and negotiate anything, you’ll send them to the Treaty 8 office in Alberta. The Treaty 8 office, that’s where you come to,” she said.

“We would never agree to give authority to a non-rights bearing organization or to develop treaty interpretation principles for our nation. Our nation will not endorse this process and we want it on record that we would strongly oppose this resolution,” said Sunshine.

Attempts to make the resolution more palatable failed.

Former grand chief of Treaty 6 Wilton Littlechild acknowledged that the wording of the resolution was concerning as it did not reference international law.

Littlechild suggested an amendment that would ensure treaties were not to be interpreted as domestic treaties.

Proxy Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First Nations Summit in British Columbia, also expressed concern about that province’s modern day treaty process. Her organization provides a forum to First Nations in B.C. to address issues related to treaty negotiations as there have not been a lot of treaties concluded in that province.

“I would like to see some language added that would just say that this work does not impede or impact the…B.C. negotiations framework process in British Columbia,” said Casimer.

An amendment that the resolution would not “diminish, limit, (or) impact” modern treaties nor would it supersede the ability of First Nations to exercise their inherent jurisdiction regarding modern treaties was added.

However, despite the amendments, Resolution 13 was pulled from the omnibus package.

The resolutions dealing with the children’s matters passed, along with resolutions calling for communal protection orders for violent and repeat offenders in First Nations; and a call for Canada to implement the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry’s calls for justice and First Nations control of funding.

Also part of the omnibus package and passed was a resolution to reform the “exploitative legal fee structures.” That resolution called on Canada to take a strong stance on law firms that “prey upon” First Nations. It also directed the AFN to oversee the development of a comprehensive legal fee structure reform strategy directed towards the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and provincial and territorial law societies.

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

Original Published on Dec 12, 2023 at 06:40

This item reprinted with permission from    Edmonton, Alberta

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