Current Reality

No progress from the Federal government yet on executing a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation 5 years after the TRC Calls to Action were issued in June 2015.

Two of the central tenets of the Royal Proclamation are the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius and the adoption of the UN Declaration as the framework for Reconciliation. Out of those flow the practical remedies of “renewing or establishing” treaty relationships and “the recognition of Indigenous laws and legal traditions” to fix 153 years of broken promises and treaties.

One of the major challenges will be in reconciling a non-committal federal agenda with provincial jurisdictions. Since the last Indigenous Watchdog update on April 21, 2020, four provinces – BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec – have joined the federal government (Trans Mountain Pipeline, Coastal GasLink) and Newfoundland and Labrador (Muskrat Falls) in overriding and shutting down Indigenous protests – including though injunctions enforced by various police forces – to advance major resource extraction projects that negatively impact Indigenous communities and lives.

How does that behaviour advance Reconciliation? Perhaps that’s why these Calls to Action are either “Not Started” (Federal Government) or “Stalled” (Federal Government)

Aug. 17, 2020 – Although not directly related to the Royal Proclamation and Covenant of Reconciliation, the $2.5 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funding over six years to support the Rebuilding First Nations Governance (RFNG) project, an investigation into transforming Indian Act governance, seeks Indigenous alternatives to the stranglehold the Indian Act has over all aspects of Indigenous lives in Canada. RFNG is “an alliance of First Nation communities and tribal councils, and academic researchers and practitioners, committed to working from the community level up to end Indian Act governance and build alternatives that realize the inherent right to self-government as affirmed in the Constitution Act”. The question is “How does the 6-year timeline impact the government’s implementation plan for UNDRIP – a fundamental commitment of the Royal Proclamation and Covenant of Reconciliation? See additional details in C2A # 45 and 47 Federal Government commitment.

Calls to Action

Call to Action # 45Develop with Indigenous Peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation
Call to Action # 46Develop and sign a Covenant of Reconciliation to advance Reconciliation
Call to Action # 47Repudiate Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius

Current and Ongoing Problems

Federal government failure to issue adequate compensation to Lac Seul First Nation for flooding their ancestral lands to advance a hydro-electric project

Oct. 28, 2020: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) – Supreme Court of Canada grants intervener status to AMC, along with many others, in the Southwind case. Lac Seul Band launched the suit against the Federal Government for breaching their fiduciary duty when they flooded reserve land to advance a hydro-electric project. This project would see massive profits for the government, while leaving the First Nation of Lac Seul destitute and without reparations or adequate compensation for the devastation of their land and lost opportunity. Lac Seul, however, subsequently appealed the Federal Court of Appel decision stating that the compensation amount should have been calculated based on both significant cultural loss and on the use of the flooded land for hydro profits, meaning that the ordered amount did not accurately reflect the loss suffered.

“The Federal Government owes all First Nations a fiduciary duty which is a long standing obligation to act in the best interests of First Nations. Clearly, profiting on the backs of First Nations to their detriment is not honouring the fiduciary obligation and Lac Seul should be compensated to fullest extent considering any and all losses suffered by the Nation,” said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Grand Chief Dumas concluded, “This appeal marks a significant opportunity for Supreme Court to provide clarity on how, in light of the unique Crown-First Nations relationship, equitable compensation can best be assessed when the Federal Government has breached its treaty obligations or fiduciary duty to a First Nation.”

April 23, 2020First Peoples Law -The Supreme Court of Canada granted Lac Seul First Nation’s application for leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Southwind v. Canada. The Supreme Court is expected to clarify how equitable compensation is calculated where a First Nation’s reserve lands have been taken or damaged by the Crown in the absence of a valid surrender or expropriation. The decision could directly affect First Nations across Canada dealing with claims relating to the unlawful taking of their reserve lands.

“The Federal Government owes all First Nations a fiduciary duty which is a long standing obligation to act in the best interests of First Nations. Clearly, profiting on the backs of First Nations to their detriment is not honouring the fiduciary obligation and Lac Seul should be compensated to fullest extent considering any and all losses suffered by the Nation,” said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Grand Chief Dumas concluded, “This appeal marks a significant opportunity for Supreme Court to provide clarity on how, in light of the unique Crown-First Nations relationship, equitable compensation can best be assessed when the Federal Government has breached its treaty obligations or fiduciary duty to a First Nation.”

Coastal GasLink has RCMP remove Wet’suwet’en women protestors conducting ceremony on traditional lands

Oct. 15, 2020: Coastal GasLink called in the RCMP to remove a group of Wet’suwet’en women and community members who are holding ceremony at a proposed drill site for Coastal Gaslink’s pipeline. Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) – UBCIC stands in solidarity with the Indigenous land defenders who are protecting the Wedzin Kwa, the river that sustains and gives life to their Nation, from test drilling. These land defenders are lawfully exercising their right to steward their unceded territories and strengthen their cultural ties to their lands through the sacred responsibility of prayer, smudging, and ceremony. The presence of the RCMP and the threat they represent – surveillance, intimidation, arrest, discrimination, and violence – undermines the authority and self-determination of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who have full jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en lands.

Given the forthcoming provincial election and renewed statements from political leaders regarding the importance of reconciliation and advancing Indigenous relations, it is worrisome that systemic violations of fundamental Indigenous and human rights continue to occur over major energy projects such as the CGL pipeline and the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad of additional challenges First Nations are facing, the Province can no longer afford to deem industrial projects like the CGL pipeline and the TMX as essential services and adopt a “business as usual” approach. The health and safety of Indigenous communities must be prioritized.

Indigenous land defenders and community members cannot be criminalized and targeted for asserting their Title and Rights and conducting ceremonial and cultural traditions; this stands in acute opposition to the provincial government’s obligations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

The Anicinape Nation in Quebec is calling for a complete moratorium on moose hunting on its un-ceded ancestral territory

Oct. 8, 2020 – The Anicinape Nation is calling for a complete moratorium on moose hunting on its unceded ancestral territory. Faced with the Quebec government’s refusal to authorize this moratorium, roadblocks have been erected in the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve to prevent hunters from passing through. Yesterday, the Quebec Superior Court granted a provisional injunction to the Petawaga zec, part of the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve. The Anicinape Nation holds ancestral rights, including an unextinguished ancestral title, on the entire territory of the wildlife reserve.

Moose hunting is at the heart of the culture and identity of the Anicinape Nation and all First Nations in Quebec. The protection of moose is a collective duty to ensure the vitality and sustainability of culture and traditions. Government leniency in this file has direct impacts on the rights of the Anicinapek, which are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and protected by Canadian and international law.

Innu Nation of Labrador files lawsuit against Hydro-Quebec for damages resulting from Churchill Falls project

Oct. 6, 2020: Canadian Press – The Innu Nation of Labrador has filed a lawsuit against Hydro-Quebec seeking $4 billion in compensation for the ecological and cultural damage caused by the damming of the upper Churchill River in the early 1970s. They call the Churchill River’s large watershed Nitassinan. The river itself is called Mishtashipu. The Innu never ceded their land to European settlers and no treaties were signed, lawyer Nancy Kleer said.

Senior Innu leaders said Tuesday the provincially owned utility illegally took land from the Indigenous group without consultation in the late 1960s as construction started on the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in central Labrador. “Hydro-Quebec has made billions of dollars from that contract, (but) it has not paid us a single penny for the damage to our land or damage to our lives, and to our people,” Grand Chief Etienne Rich told a news conference in St. John’s. “We are extremely disappointed in Hydro-Quebec’s refusal to take responsibility for what they have done to our people and our land.

The massive hydroelectric project led to the creation of the Smallwood Reservoir, which flooded 6,500 square kilometres of traditional Innu territory, destroying fishing and hunting grounds, caribou habitat and ancestral graves, Rich said. The deal to build the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project was signed between Newfoundland and Quebec in 1969, and the project was completed in 1974.

“They have Aboriginal title to this land,” Kleer said, noting that a formal land claim process started in the 1990s.

As well, Kleer said officials from Hydro-Quebec have for decades refused to negotiate any kind of settlement with the Innu. She said the $4 billion claim is based on calculations suggesting Hydro-Quebec has earned $80 billion in profit from the project, with another $70 billion expected by the time the power contract with Newfoundland and Labrador expires in 2041.

Six Wolastoqey Nation’s lawsuit to recognize their Aboriginal title to lands from the Peace and Friendship Treaties

Oct. 5. 2020: NationTalk – The six Wolastoqey Communities in New Brunswick – Matawaskiye (Madawaska), Neqotkuk (Tobique), Wotstak (Woodstock), Pilick (Kingsclear), Sitansisk (St. Mary’s) and Welamukotuk (Oromocto) – announced they will be filing a lawsuit seeking the Court’s recognition of the Wolastoqey Nation’s title to lands in New Brunswick. Between 1725 and 1778, the Wolastoqey Nation negotiated and entered into Treaties with the Crown, known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties. The Crown did not honour the Treaties, and took Wolastoqey lands without consent, and pushed the Wolastoqey people into six small communities along the river. They have carved up the land and given it to private landowners, and kept for themselves all benefits in the form of taxes, royalties, leases and fees.

“They have acted as if they have sole jurisdiction over the land and this is simply legally not the case,” said Chief Tim Paul of Wotstak. “You cannot give away something that is not yours to give. Yet for nearly 300 years, ignoring agreements signed nation to nation in black and white, this is what the governments of that time and the succeeding governments of New Brunswick and Canada have done.” “Meanwhile, many of our people live in poverty,” continued Chief Gabriel Atwin of Pilick. “Canada and New Brunswick and the preceding governments had a fiduciary duty to protect our lands. They did not honour those duties. And our people have suffered because of that breach. Even to
this day they refuse to recognize what they have done and we are filing this lawsuit to ask the courts to recognize what the Crown has done.”

Quebec’s Bill 66 ignores economic issues identified by First Nations groups

Sept. 23. 2020: Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) – AFNQL deplores the complete lack of consideration for the realities of First Nations as presented by the First Nations leaders. The new version of the defunct Bill 61 confirms Quebec’s lack of consideration, even indifference, for economic recovery that is First Nations specific.

“First Nations issues must be part of the public debate and they deserve to be heard as part of the study of the Bill, especially with regard to economic issues where First Nations are light years away from Quebec. And yet, a good part of the wealth comes from the ancestral territories of our nations,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the AFNQL, in reaction to the tabling of Bill 66. He also specified “that the message before the parliamentary committee in June and the letter of last August focused on First Nations economic recovery simply fell on deaf ears”.

Supreme Court to hear First Nations constitutional orders are distinct but equal to Euro-Canadian laws

Sept. 21, 2020 – The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) will be intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in a significant and potentially transformational hearing to argue that First Nation constitutional orders are distinct but equal to Euro-Canadian laws. On the surface, the case is about the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, the federal government’s carbon tax, and whether it intrudes on provincial jurisdiction. 

However, neither the federal nor provincial governments acknowledge the existence of First Nations laws.  The AMC, represented by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), will argue that the Supreme Court has a unique opportunity to address a much deeper reality.  The Court will address the most fundamental constitutional question of our time – the means of addressing climate change. The AMC will propose an analysis, which must recognize the existence of First Nations constitutional orders. The AMC cautions against the incorporation of First Nations laws within the existing Euro-Canadian federalism analysis to address the constitutional question. Instead, the AMC proposes a return to the relationship as it was originally intended by Treaties – one between equal nations with distinct legal traditions. 

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said, “First Nations people and laws have always been here.  These laws continue to govern First Nations’ relationships with the Creator, Mother Earth and all living beings. They are grounded in mutual respect and underpin the Treaty relationship. Our First Nations laws constitute Canada’s first constitutional order, alongside the French Civil Law and English Common Law. This is a constitutional debate that must acknowledge our nation-to-nation relationships and help frame reconciliation.” 

The AMC contends that this court case exposes an outdated, inaccurate and destructive narrative about Canada. First Nations laws have been recognized by the Supreme Court, however recent lower court decisions have sent contradictory signals about the relationship between Euro-Canadian laws and First Nations laws. This lack of clarity has led to a patchwork of inconsistent decisions.   “This court case offers an opportunity for a fundamental paradigm shift in the relationship between First Nations and non-First Nations people,” says Joëlle Pastora Sala, PILC attorney, who will argue at the Supreme Court via Zoom from Winnipeg. “We can create a more meaningful implementation of reconciliation – grounded in the spirit and intentions of treaties. Reconciliation, as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, requires respect for First Nations laws as equal and distinct from Euro-Canadian laws. The Supreme Court has a key role to play in shaping the path forward.”  

Ongoing refusal of federal government to define “Moderate Living” fishery for Mi’kmaw communities

Sept.18, 2020 “Toronto Star – “In its 1999 Marshall decision – borne of a court case against Mi’kmaw fisherman and icon Donald Marshall – the Supreme Court affirmed the right of First Nations to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood.” The decision arose out of the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761 and affected 34 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and the Gaspé region of Quebec. (Government of Canada website, Sept, 2020). 21 years later, the federal government has failed to define “moderate livelihood. The Sipekne’katik First Nation has therefor created its own self-regulated moderate living” fishery issuing seven licenses.

Chief Michael Sack has indicated that “The plan…includes conservation measures, regulations for the boats and their safety and compliance officers”. The main concern for the non-Indigenous fisherman is the sale of the lobsters outside of the regulated commercial fishing season; an issue that the band and community will address.

In the meantime, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia insist that the laws of Canada must be obeyed.

Sept. 21, 2020: Global News – …a flotilla of non-Indigenous fishermen removed about 350 lobster traps off the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia…under the watch of RCMP, coast guard boats and police helicopters. “The gear that we were collecting was what was in violation of the law,” Colin Sproul, President of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association said. “There’s nothing more to show that fishermen have the true, just, lawful position here than the fact that we conducted that activity yesterday and nobody stopped us.” What law is being broken: the deliberate theft and destruction of Indigenous “property” by white fisherman with the active support of the police and government authorities or the actions by authorities and government to deny Indigenous rights and title even when confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Oct. 1, 2020Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation OfficeMi’kmaw harvesters from the Potlotek Mi’kmaw community will exercise their inherent right to fish for a moderate livelihood under their communities own self-governed fisheries plan. The harvesters will take to the waters of St. Peter’s Bay on the annual celebration of Treaty Day, a date to recognize and honor the treaties signed between the Mi’kmaq and the Crown in the 1700’s. The Netukulimk Livelihood Fisheries Plan is a step towards self-governance. Potlotek has been working collaboratively with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, Kwilmu’kw Maw-Klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO), their community harvesters and community members to develop a plan that follows the Mi’kmaw traditional beliefs of Netukulimk, respects conservation, follows safety protocols and allows for a sustainable and responsible fishery.

Netukulimk is the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community. Netukulimk is achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity, or productivity of our environment.

Oct. 23, 2020: Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office – Representatives of the DFO Conservation and Protection (C&P) officers, who seized traps from Potlotek and Eskasoni authorized harvesters, refused to attend the consultation discussions (between DFO and Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs) to explain their actions and DFO representatives in attendance said they would not exercise authority over C&P officers. While the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have done their due diligence, bringing all documents, including Community Netukulimk Management Plans, to the table for transparent and fulsome discussions, what is being said by the Minister publicly about working in good faith with the Mi’kmaq, is not the direction that her Negotiations Team is taking. Since the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia see the discussions with Canada failing them at a critical moment, the Mi’kmaq are now prioritizing a new way forward.

Haudenosaunee Land Protectors protest housing development at 1492 Land back Lane on un-ceded territory that is still part of an unsettled land claim

Sept. 17, 2020 – EyeOpener – Protesters have occupied so-called Mackenzie Meadows, bordering the town of Caledonia and the Six Nations reserve, since July 19 in opposition to the housing development of the neighbourhood by Foxgate Developments Inc. The site is under the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee First Nation as one of their last unceded territories under the 200-year-old Haldimand Proclamation. Today, it has become an encampment for protestors, featuring art such as a shipping container spray painted with the site’s unofficial title: 1492 Land Back Lane. ‘

Sept. 12, 2020: Toronto Star – The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) armed with a court injunction arrested 26 people including 2 journalists and an Indigenous academic researcher.

Oct, 22, 2020: Toronto Star – Ontario court issues a permanent injunction in favour of Foxgate and Haldimand County against the Haudenosaunee protesters. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, Six Nations traditional government, does not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of the Six Nations’ Elected Council, the colonial construct of The Indian Act The Six Nations Elected Council has been fighting for resolution to existing land claims on the Haldimand Tract since1980 managing to resolve one out of 29 submitted claims between 1980 -1995. Given the failure of the Claims process the band took the federal and provincial governments to court that has been languishing in the court system with a trial date scheduled for 2022. This is where Haldimand County believes the protesters should seek resolution. The reality is that there should be no development until the land claim is resolved. If the Haudenosaunee can wait over 200 years and especially over the last 40 years, they can wait a few years themselves.

Government of Saskatchewan does’t recognize Métis Aboriginal title to land and resources

Sept. 16, 2020: Global News – The Métis Nation – Saskatchewan (MN-S) has launched a lawsuit against the province claiming the government is not doing enough to consult with the Métis over issues like land use, and commercial activities like trapping and fishing. The statement of claim…also says the provincial policy on consultation, issued in 2010, doesn’t recognize Métis assertions of Aboriginal title to land and resources. Last year Métis in Saskatchewan and Alberta filed a massive land claim, seeking roughly 122,000 square kilometers in northwest Saskatchewan and northeast Alberta. The claim seeks redress for land lost to the Métis more than a century ago through the scrip system (stripped Métis of most of their land in the 1880’s after the Northwest Rebellion and acknowledged by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013)

The lawsuit also points to what it says is a lack of consultation by the province when issuing mineral interests within land claimed by the Métis. The “2010 First Nations and Métis Consultation Policy Framework” allows the government to determine if consultation should be triggered and how much is merited. The MN-S is asking the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan for several declarations, including that the 2010 policy is invalid and that the province’s continued reliance on it avoids duty to consult and is dishonourable.

Government of Alberta’s continuous refusal to acknowledge and accept Aboriginal Rights and Title

Sept. 1, 2020: NationTalk – On the day celebrating Alberta’s entry into Confederation 115 years ago, Premier Jason Kenny acknowledged that “Alberta’s history of human habitation dates back more than 10,000 years when the first Indigenous people migrated to Alberta to find a land rich in bounty. Albertans have celebrated years of growth and economic prosperity despite the litany of challenges ranging from the Spanish flu to the Depression to two world wars etc. etc. etc. “Yet, as Albertans have always done – from the protracted fight to wrestle ownership of our own natural resources from the federal government in 1930 to our responsible civic response to slowing the spread of COVID today – we will once again emerge stronger. “This is why I’m proud that our government has officially declared September 1st as Alberta Day to celebrate our great province and all that makes us, as our provincial motto says, strong and free.”

The irony of acknowledging Indigenous “land rich in bounty” with his subsequent statement of “wrestling ownership of our own natural resources” from the federal government” provides a glaring insight into the fundamental i- and so far intractable – issue impacting Indigenous relations in Canada: a failure by all levels of government to acknowledge and accept Aboriginal Rights and Title even after the Supreme Court of Canada declared that Aboriginal title exists in law through the Tsilqot’in Nation decision in June 2014 and Delgamuukw in 1997.  Jason Kenny basically confirmed with his statement that any Aboriginal claim for an economic benefit from the “land rich in bounty” is irrelevant since the provincial government “owns” the natural resources (Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius). If the 115 years of growth and economic prosperity fuelled by natural resources were for all Albertans why are Indigenous people who originally “owned” those very same natural resources in the first place, the most impoverished.

Bill 197 “The COVID-19 Economic recovery Act 2019” violates Ontario’s Environment Bill of Rights by weakening environmental protections that impact Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights

July 24, 2020:NationTalk – Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2019), an omnibus bill introduced on July 8 and passed just 13 days later on July 23 with little legislative debate and no Standing Committee consideration, and without public consultation on the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA despite warnings from Ontario’s Auditor General that this violates the Environmental Bill of Rights. The Bill allows for major changes to the EAA while offering few concrete details, leaving important decisions to be implemented through regulations that are not yet known and which will not be subject to legislative approval. Major changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) could significantly weaken environmental protections and impact Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights, all under the guise of COVID-19 response.

On the same day that Ontario introduced Bill 197, it gave public notice of just 45 days to review and comment on a package of other proposed changes to the EAA and related regulations relating to mining, hydro transmission, municipal environmental assessments, flood and erosion control, waterpower projects, resource stewardship and facility development, transportation, public works, amendments to environmental assessments, land claim settlements, projects within provincial parks and conservation reserves, and two specific major transportation projects. These changes are part of an ongoing effort by this government to overhaul Ontario’s environmental protection regime, in support of its promise to “cut red tape” in support of economic interests.

As a community with a high poverty rate, Fort Albany understands the need for economic opportunity. However, development must be ecologically responsible and culturally sustainable. At a time when the whole world is facing unprecedented climate change and biodiversity loss, development must be supported with more and better environmental protections, not fewer. Any changes to environmental protections are important for us, because the exercise of our Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights is inherently connected to the wellbeing of the environment. However, the government is unilaterally introducing major changes with the knowledge that our community is under pressure and constraints due to COVID-19, and that we do not have the resources or capacity to meaningfully engage. This is not honourable, and it disrespects our relationship with our territory and our role as a Treaty No. 9 partner. We call on the Government of Ontario to repeal Bill 197, and to design a more appropriate process for reform of the EAA in full partnership with Indigenous groups, with the principles of robust environmental protection, public participation, and respect for Indigenous rights at its heart.

Aug. 10, 2020The Timmins Daily Press – Mushkegowuk Council is calling on the province to honour the treaty it signed 115 years ago. Treaty 9 was signed between First Nations leaders and Canadian political figures to establish guidelines around resources and projects on First Nations land. Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon called Bill 197 a “major step back” that “abolishes many of the environmental assessment rules that have been in place for decades.” Solomon explained that a treaty was signed because it recognized the Mushkegowuk/Ininiwuk peoples as a nation, which had its own governance, laws, language, culture, among others. Mushkegowuk’s grand chief said the agreement signed in 1905 was a “‘nation-to-nation sacred treaty,” noting that Canadian courts have deemed the oral promises made were “as much a part of the binding treaty as the words written on the treaty parchment.” Solomon added that if the province is interested in receiving consent for resource, forestry, mining and other development projects on Indigenous land, it must be done in consultation with First Nations from the beginning. “You will need to show how these projects respect the integrity of our environment. Further, you will need to demonstrate how these projects will benefit the Omushkego/Ininiwuk. That has not changed, despite Bill 197.”

August 28, 2020 – The Matawa Chiefs Council, who represent 9 First Nations, issued this statement today rejecting the Ontario Crown’s tactics to unlawfully access the wealth of the north. The Ontario government has used the cover of COVID-19 to make legislative, regulatory and policy changes that attempt to diminish the obligations of Ontario to honour the constitutionally-protected Inherent Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of First Nations across Ontario.

Supreme Court refuses to hear First Nations appeal of Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval project

July 2, 2020 – Vancouver (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Territory)- The Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band have been denied leave to appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada. “We are extremely disappointed by today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Chief Leah George-Wilson. It reduces consultation to a purely procedural requirement that will be a serious barrier to reconciliation.” Although today’s decision marks the end of the road for this legal challenge, First Nations have vowed to explore all legal options to protect their rights, land, water and climate.

The impact of Coldwater First Nation v. Canada 2020 FCA 34 (“Coldwater decision”) of Feb. 4, 2020 is to weaken the constitutional duty to consult to “a procedural duty to provide reasons Instead of looking at what happened during consultation to determine whether it was meaningful and upheld the honour of the Crown (the test for meaningful consultation), the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) limited their review to the reasonableness of Cabinet’s own assessment of whether it had fulfilled its duty to consult and accommodate. The court held that Cabinet’s decision, including the outcome reached and justification for it, was reasonable, relying on Cabinet’s own decision document and accompanying explanatory note. Because the Canadian government also owns the TMX project, Cabinet’s assessment of the adequacy of their own consultation should not invite the level of deference conferred to decision makers in Vavilov.

Apr. 7, 2020 – The Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band announce they are seeking leave for appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. These four First Nations have fought and challenged the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) Project through every Federal court. They now intend to seek a challenge at the Supreme Court of Canada. The First Nations are challenging the adequacy of Indigenous consultation leading up to the second approval of the oil pipeline project.

“The Supreme Court of Canada needs to deal with the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision that essentially lets the government be the judge and jury of its own consultation efforts. We need the opportunity to address the flawed consultation and engagement conducted by the Federal government, given the strength of rights and title of the Squamish People to Burrard Inlet and Vancouver. Indigenous peoples have a constitutional right to meaningful consultation and the courts must scrutinize that process. This flawed decision cannot stand, and we must challenge it, not just for us but for any future project that may be challenged by First Nations,” said Khelsilem, Squamish Nation Spokesperson and Councillor

Negative impacts on Indigenous health through the suspension of environmental monitoring by the Alberta Energy Regulator

June 5, 2020: Three First Nations in northeast Alberta – Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation -have jointly filed an appeal related to recent Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) decisions to suspend key aspects of environmental monitoring in the oil sands. The First Nations were not consulted on decisions that clearly impact Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) ability to identify and mitigate these impacts in traditional territories.

May 8, 2020 – Clean Tech Canada (Canadian Manufacturing) The latest exemptions specifically relieve operators of the following:

The decisions to suspend environmental monitoring were made unilaterally. We were not notified—in fact, we would have had no idea this had occurred if it had not been revealed in the press,” stated Mel Grandjamb, Chief of Fort McKay First Nation. Consultation would have enabled us to inform the regulator how its monitoring decisions impact our Nations. Both we and the industry would have been better served by the clarity that consultation would have contributed to these decisions.”

  • Monitoring most ground and surface water, unless it enters the environment
  • almost all wildlife and bird monitoring is suspended
  • Air-quality programs, including one for the First Nations community of Fort McKay, have been reduced, along with many other conditions of the companies’ licences
  • Testing for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has been suspended
  • Wetlands monitoring and research is gone until further notice
  • Water that escapes from storm ponds no longer must be tested

In the days leading up to these decisions, our representatives sat AER, government and industry representatives to provide oversight to environmental monitoring programs under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. The fact AER did not mention once it was considering suspending monitoring, some of which may overlap with program work, is very disappointing. This neglect does not encourage reconciliation. In March, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers requested that the federal government relax several regulatory and policy activities, including an indefinite suspension of all consultation with industry to develop new environmental policies. At the same time, industry has lobbied the provincial government to resume consultation with Indigenous communities to advance projects despite the closure of our communities due to COVID-19 pandemic responses.

Government of Ontario using COVID-19 to restrict consultation on development of Ring of Fire mining operations

May 22, 2020: Policy Options – “Pandemic shouldn’t impede meaningful Indigenous engagement on Ring of Fire”. Ontario government announced that “a regional assessment of potential mining operations for the Ring of Fire will be undertaken”. The announcement only posted on the agency website severely impacts the ability of First Nations to meaningfully engage in the consulting process. Only those registered on the email distribution received the email notification that:

  • Agency suspended all face-to-face meetings
  • Cancelled all engagement activities
  • Agency will continue to develop a regional assessment and plan with a much more constrained engagement

As evidence demonstrates, inadequate internet access and a lack of cellular networks access to remote regions in Northern Ontario put First Nations at a greater disadvantage in efforts to participate at a distance during the global pandemic.  For remote First Nations in Northern Ontario, the agency must work harder to ensure that the voices of communities implicated in the Ring of Fire regional assessment are not further silenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Vague statements such as the one released to the email distribution list do little to provide implicated communities, organizations, and individuals the clarity required to adequately adjust and prepare for consultation opportunities once the threat of COVID-19 subsides. In the meantime, it is imperative that First Nation community members and leadership, scholars, activists, policy-makers, consultants and other groups interested in Ontario’s Ring of Fire remain as vigilant as possible during COVID in monitoring developments in the region and ensuring major decisions are not made without critical thought or meaningful Indigenous and public engagement

First Nations protest against Manitoba Hydro Keeyask project due to COVID-19 health concerns.


Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. is issuing this statement along with the four Cree Nations that have entered into a partnership with Manitoba Hydro in the construction and operation of the Keeyask Generating Station in Northern Manitoba. The four First Nations are: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory Cree Nation. “MKO is pleased that Manitoba Hydro has come to an agreement with the four Cree Nations regarding the Keeyask construction site,” stated Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “It is imperative that corporations working in our territory are full partners and in agreement with plans to open up the North—the First Nations had made it clear for weeks that they were not in agreement with the plans made for the Keeyask project. Their ultimate concern was in protecting their communities from the threat of COVID-19. The agreement made between the Chiefs and Manitoba Hydro includes the removal of blockades, the lifting of the injunction against Tataskweyak Cree Nation, as well as planning exercises, a move towards implementing the project plan for Keeyask, and an in-person meeting between the CEO and the leadership of the four Cree Nations.

Northern Manitoba First Nations had the highest rates of hospitalizations of all First Nations in Canada during the last H1N1 pandemic. MacLean’s July 16, 2009


May 20, 2020: Amnesty InternationalDespite legal obligations, Manitoba Hydro has not worked collaboratively to obtain consent to this most recent decision to expand operations (Keeyask Hydro project) and is ignoring requests by the four partner First Nations (Fox Lake, War, York Factory) to limit work at the dam site because of public health concerns. “Every effort must be made to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Ana Collins, Indigenous Rights Campaign Advisor with Amnesty International Canada. “Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba are rightfully occupying and defending lands to which they still hold inherent title. Yet federal and provincial governments continue to rely upon repudiated papal doctrines of discovery and terra nullius to claim (as in the Haida decision) “presumed Crown sovereignty.”

Without question, these communities have an inherent responsibility and right to control access into their territories to protect their communities from COVID-19 and prevent unsustainable pressure on healthcare systems in rural and remote areas. “In light of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, and the particular threat that it poses to vulnerable communities with inadequate access to health care, housing, water and other essential services, it is imperative that federal, provincial and territorial governments respect the right of Indigenous peoples to set conditions of entry into their territories. Indigenous communities must be able to restrict access of industry workers, tourists, cottagers, and others. Where Indigenous communities have required suspension of certain activities in their territories, this must be respected.”  Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Government of Quebec infringing on First Nations Aboriginal treaty rights by failing to consult First Nations on Bill 62’s impact on health

Apr. 20, 2020 – Makivik Corporation, who represent the Inuit of Nunavik, is strongly opposed to the resumption of mining activities in the Nunavik region. The decision was made unilaterally by the government of Quebec without consultation whatsoever with the Inuit and was further supported by a directive issued by the Nunavik’s Director of Public Health, and Nunavik’s Director of Civil Security to partially lift the travel ban to Nunavik for the purpose of the reopening of the mining sites. Inuit account for the vast majority of the population in Nunavik and need to have a say on major regional issues such as this one. Miners started returning to the region yesterday.

“Makivik will not entertain the opening of any mines at this time in Nunavik. This is very dangerous. The Inuit elected officials in the communities and in the different regional organizations need to be heard and need to make the decisions and call the shots. Nunavik cannot and will not be governed by civil servants who may be tempted to use the pandemic to empower themselves” says Makivik President Charlie Watt. “ We have written numerous letters to Quebec on different issues related to the pandemic and they have not responded…not even an acknowledgement of receipt.” As the signatory to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and the Raglan and Nunavik Nickel Agreement, Makivik Corporation is the political representative of the Inuit of Nunavik, and this is without question. Quebec can’t ignore Makivik and has to fully respect the spirit and intent of the JBNQA. The Inuit can’t accept to go through another bad episode of colonialism in 2020.

Open Letter from Union of BC Indian Chiefs to Government of BC to halt construction of Site C Dam due to risks of spreading COVID-19

March 26, 2020 – Open Letter from Union of BC Indian Chiefs to Premier John Horgan and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health to halt construction of Site C Dam due to concerns around COVID-19. Through UBCIC Resolution 2011-25, UBCIC highlighted the environmental dangers of the Site C Dam and pointed to the devastating effects it will have on the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights of Treaty 8 First Nations. BC Hydro has confirmed that 16 of its construction workers at the Site C Dam site are under self-isolation with flu like symptoms. Given the close quarters and inevitable contact points at the 1,600-worker camp, an outbreak of COVID-19 would be disastrous and with dire implications for nearby communities, including First Nation communities.

There is an extreme shortage of health services in northeast British Columbia, with virtually no hospital beds available to handle an outbreak in Fort St. John or nearby Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. BC Hydro’s recent news release also reveals that it is barrelling ahead with Site C Dam construction, including work on river diversion, transmission lines, highway realignment, clearing and other elements. This negligence and irresponsible continuation of construction places the welfare of workers and communities at an unacceptable risk and is utterly inconsistent with the health advice provided by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Federal Government Continues to Ignore Free Prior and Informed Consent

May 6, 2019 – The Chiefs of Sovereign and Treaty Nations from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 have consistently told Canada, “Nations don’t make laws for other Nations”. Despite numerous attempts to work with the Federal Government, Canada continues to unilaterally develop laws and policies without our right to free, prior and informed consent. Alexander First Nation, Chief Kurt Burnstick.

“On behalf of our Nation and three other First Nations, we filed an early warning action with the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) against all the unilateral actions of Canada. In December 2018, a letter was sent to Canada asking what steps Canada has taken to protect the rights of our Nations to our free, prior and informed consent in all aspects from legislation to policy changes. CERD gave Canada until the 8th of April 2019 to respond to our UN CERD submission” added Chief Makinaw.

Canada’s “prove it” approach to Aboriginal Title (from Policy Options)

Feb. 2, 2019 – Continued refusal to accept Aboriginal title as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Delgamuukw decision and the Tsilhqot’in decision. The Supreme Court of Canada similarly recognizes in Delgamuukw that constitutionally protected Aboriginal title is not created by Canadian law; rather, Aboriginal title “arises from the prior occupation of Canada by aboriginal peoples.” 

Canada’s Constitution and judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada recognize the pre-existing nature of Aboriginal rights and title, which are interwoven with Indigenous laws and governance. Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which both the federal and BC governments have committed to implement, recognizes “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.”

Government of Ontario appeals the Robinson-Huron and Robinson Superior Treaties

Jan. 22, 2019: CBC – Appealing the Robinson-Huron and Robinson Superior Treaties Superior Court decision around Annuities claims while at the same time negotiating with the 21 First Nations making up the Anishinabek people in northern Ontario. 

In her December ruling, Justice Patricia Hennessy wrote the annuities described in the treaties — which hadn’t been raised since 1874 — were meant as a mechanism to share the wealth from the treaty territory’s resources. “As the historical and cultural context demonstrates … the parties were and continue to be in an ongoing relationship,” wrote Hennessy. The government of Ontario disagrees.

Robinson-Huron Treaty 1850
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III and is a document that set out guidelines for European settlement of Aboriginal territories in parts of North America. The Royal Proclamation was clear that lands did not become available for settlement – known as public lands – until after a treaty with Aboriginal inhabitants.

“The treaties were entered into on a nation-to-nation basis; that is, in entering into the pre-Confederation treaties, the French and British Crowns recognized the Aboriginal nations as self-governing entities with their own systems of law and governance and agreed to respect them as such.” (source: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples). Through the Treaty, the Lake Huron Chiefs and leaders of the Anishinabek signatory First Nations intended to protect the territory and establish relations. Contrary to what many Canadians believe, nothing has been given to our First Nations. In fact, it was our First Nations who agreed to share our resources with the newcomers, now Canadians. The Robinson-Huron Treaty intended to provide economic benefits for the First Nations parties to the Treaty in perpetuity. Significant wealth has been and continues to be generated from resource development within the Treaty territory.

July 8, 2020Manitoulin Expositor – Since the Ontario Government launched their appeal of the Dec. 24, 2018 decision, the Superior Court has sided with the Anishinabek Nation in two of three challenges:

Phase 1: Established that the original treaty created a ‘sui generis fiduciary relationship’ (meaning the colonial government was required to manage the lands and act in the best interests of the First Nations, a relationship that was specifically applicable to this case

Phase 2: Justice Hennessey rejected the crown’s various arguments that it should not have to increase annuities or make up for lost payments in past. These arguments included a statute of limitations—that too much time has passed between the last annuity increase and it should not be responsible for annuities before 1963, and that the Crown may be ‘immune’ from being sued.

Phase 3 – Final phase addresses the compensation issue (TBD)