Making good on her campaign promises, Premier Rachel Notley and her ministers met with chiefs from the First Nations of Alberta at the Alberta Legislature over the course of the last month, in an effort to improve relations between the two groups.
The meetings were also described as an opportunity for the First Nations to air their grievances and address priorities with the government.
“All the discussion the premier has had with the media regarding working with First Nations, it is hopeful to see a willingness to work with us,” Treaty 8 Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille said in a release following a meeting with the Alberta Government on Oct. 20. “We have serious issues with many of the laws, regulations and policies in this province and it sounds like she is willing to step forward with some action.”
The government also met with Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead on Oct. 16, and with Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis on Oct. 7.
“I think the really important thing to recognize is that when we’re engaging with First Nations we really need to be listening to what’s coming back, and really doing our best to understand what’s being said to us,” Kathleen Ganley, Alberta’s Minister of Aboriginal Relations, told the Journal. “The premier started us off on a really good foot by adding her voice to the call for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and by apologizing for the role the province played in the residential schools. I think that helps to sort of reset the framework, and I’m hoping that we can work together moving forward in a more productive way.”
While each group had their own issues to address, there were common themes, Ganley said.
“A lot of them have to do with protection of the environment – land, water and air – but also with development within a First Nation,” she said. “A lot of the concerns were around making sure they have access to clean water and ensuring they have access to the same opportunities that all Albertans share because there is a significant gap in terms of education and in terms of health outcomes and in terms of economic development, and I do believe we need to work together on addressing that gap.”
Previous to the meetings, ministers started the ball rolling on improving “nation-to-nation relations” by examining how the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples could be better implemented into law, a directive issued by Notley in July.
They are also working to repeal the Consultation Levy Act, which was set to collect fees from companies planning to develop on Crown land, with the intention of distributing the revenue to First Nations to enable consultation.
“I think the bigger conversation is around what we do to replace it,” Gangley said. “There’s difficulty where an industry proponent will come forward to a First Nation with binders and binders of technical information (that) they have to respond to, and they lack the capacity to do that, to put their position on the record and to get the same sort of level of technical legal information on the record. That problem still needs to be addressed and in fairness to industry, some industry players are doing a very, very good job of working with First Nations but in some cases they still lack that capacity.”
The three treaty groups said they came away from the meetings feeling, as it was stated by Treaty 8, “cautiously optimistic.”
“The premier made a commitment to collectively develop action-oriented solutions that can help our communities,” Courtoreille said. “These are changes that must be made so that everyone, First Nations and Albertans, live in prosperous, healthy communities. We feel that the premier understands that and now we just need to see some action.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that the Chiefs of Treaty No. 8 are willing to put in the work necessary to collaborate with the province and make a better future for all our children. It’s time and communities need it.”