Aboriginal and First Nations issues are largely absent from this provincial election campaign. So far the only issue that has raised any eyebrows is the commitment by the NDP to negotiate a resource revenue sharing arrangement with the First Nations. NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter was speaking to an audience on the Red Pheasant First Nation when he stated that it was an idea whose time has come.
Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall categorically rejected sharing resource revenues with First Nations or any other group, stating that the province’s resources belonged to all Saskatchewan’s people.
Lingenfelter’s proposal was quickly absorbed into the campaign rhetoric, along with commitments from both sides for health care, education and so on. But resource revenue sharing is an issue that will not go away in Indian Country.
While the NDP’s position will resonate with First Nations voters, it will most likely be viewed negatively by the rest of the voters.
For years our leaders have been aware that natural resources across the provinces were not negotiated away at the time of treaty making, but continue to be unfinished business.
The issue was raised in the in 1970s with Key Lake board of inquiry. At the time the province was conducting hearings about the upcoming uranium development in northern Saskatchewan. The FSIN raised issues of resource ownership, but it was brushed aside. The topic was ignored or dealt with in the negative, but was never discussed seriously.
I feel it was apparent that the First Nations had legitimate concerns. However, the prospect of the government receiving considerable revenue from uranium mining was too great – never mind from potash, oil and other minerals. Discussing revenue sharing would have opened a can of worms, and it was better to ignore it and hope it would go away.
When the numbered treaties were negotiated in Saskatchewan in the 1870s, the resources under the ground were never discussed. At the time the government had no idea that Western Canada was a treasure trove of oil, potash, uranium and base minerals. The only mineral it was interested in was coal, which was the fuel for the railways.
The government’s vision was to open the West to agricultural settlement. The oral history on the First Nations side includes a question from a chief in the Treaty 4 negotiations, who asked about what lay under the ground. He was told that the government only wanted land to the depth of a plow, and his question would be dealt with at a later date.
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