The press reports that a battle is brewing between the Saskatchewan government and First Nations over that province’s potash riches. The Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd says the government’s position is that potash and other natural resources are under the exclusive control of the provincial government. A group of First Nations is preparing to pursue legal action because the issue is not so clear. The group says the First Nations never surrendered resources below the “depth of a plough” in the treaties.
A growing number of experts agree it is time for the government to negotiate a resource revenue-sharing deal with First Nations. “I think it’s important there be discussions. They are trying to implement treaties negotiated a couple hundred years ago. It’s the spirit of the treaty — that’s the important aspect,” said Saskatoon lawyer Tom Molloy. Molloy has negotiated most of Canada’s major modern day treaties in British Columbia and other provinces. Most of those treaties contain resource revenue-sharing provisions.
“I think the sensible thing to do is sit down and negotiate,” said Jim Miller, a University of Saskatchewan history professor and Canada Research Chair in Native-newcomer relations.
See the article, linked above, for interesting information on how Canada extended its sovereignty and population in the 1870s to the Canadian Prairies.
The article mentions that the first of the Prairie treaties was Treaty 4 (the Qu’Appelle Treaty). According to the First Nations elders, they saw the treaties as a way to peacefully co-exist with Canadians. In exchange for providing Europeans with land for agriculture and settlement, they would receive medicine, food, agricultural implements, schools, cash payments and other provisions. In a book, “Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan,” financed in part by the Canadian government, elder Jimmy Myo says the treaty chiefs agreed to cede land to “the depth of the plough.” Elder Gordon Oakes said federal treaty commissioner told the chiefs not to worry about resource rights until future negotiations, which did not take place.
The final document, written by government officials and signed with an “X” by the assembled chiefs Sept. 15, 1874, says First Nations “do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada, for Her Majesty the Queen, and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits. . . . To have and to hold the same to Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors for ever.”
The language is nearly identical in Treaty 6, which, together with Treaty 4, covers the southern two-thirds of Saskatchewan.
In 1930, the federal government delegated control of natural resources to the province of Saskatchewan in the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement. First Nations contend they should have been included in the agreement, as they had not surrendered control of these assets.