The premier and two ministers touted Saskatchewan’s new growth plan and proposed mining tax cuts in official press releases on Monday, promising that the province could become a global hub for rare earth elements and critical minerals.
But the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), representing 73 First Nations, has claimed those rare elements and critical minerals fall under ancestral and treaty rights and is promising legal action to protect them.
The FSIN has also called the provincial government’s failure to consult and exclusion of First Nations people racist.
“The blatant disrespect in not including First Nations in a plan in this region is just completely unacceptable,” FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear told Global News.
“Our lands and our resources, they’re on the menu. So why are we not at the table?”
The government unveiled the sharper focus on rare earth elements and critical minerals in last week’s budget and held a press conference on Monday. There, the minister for energy and resources and for trade and export spoke about they increased the mining exploration tax credit (from 10 per cent to 30 per cent) and boosted the mining exploration incentive (from $750,000 to $4 million).
“Countries around the world are looking for safe, secure and sustainable partners. This is a time for Saskatchewan to capitalize,” energy and resources minister Jim Reiter said.
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The FSIN put out a release claiming the resources shortly afterwards, and on Tuesday, Bear told Global News the treaties governing Indigenous-Crown relations, signed more than a century ago, did not include things like rare earth elements.
She said the provincial government failed to consult First Nations, as it is legally required to do.
The FSIN’s statement said the Growth Act “excludes First Nations and is racist in its attempt to harvest natural resources without engaging First Nations people and including them in economic opportunities going forward.”
“It’s always been about power and money, land and money,” Bear said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
Monday’s announcement and the FSIN’s response heightens tension between the two groups.
More than 30 FSIN leaders previously promised blockades if the provincial government passed the Saskatchewan First Act.
The Act asserts the province’s control over natural resources and the FSIN says it also violates treaty.
The Saskatchewan government voted the Act through two weeks ago, though not before adding amendments stating the act does not violate Treaty rights.
“The Sask(atchewan) First Act and the recent announcements have awoken (a) sleeping giant,” Bear said, saying the FSIN is preparing legal action and has not backed away from potential blockades.
“We’re sort of playing a game of chicken in some ways,” Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy professor Ken Coates told Global News.
Coates, who studies Indigenous rights and land claims, added, “And the First Nations, why would they why would they not go to court?”
Coates said the Saskatchewan Natural Resources Transfer Act (1930) gives the provincial government control over resources, though he said Supreme Court rulings made it clear any government must consult and accommodate any Indigenous people any development could affect.
(Bear said the Act did not involve Indigenous people. The text only mentions the federal and provincial governments.)
Coates said one of the main problems is that the requirements suffer from a lack of clarity.
“There’s no rule as to what consultation means and no firm rule about what accommodation means,” he told Global News.
And while the onus falls on governments, he said most governments pass most responsibility to consult and accommodate to the mining companies interested in exploration.
He also said the Saskatchewan government should be thrilled by many First Nations’ positions, because they’re arguing for inclusion and not against exploration and development.
“If (the government) turn their backs on (Indigenous people) at this point, with those very strong indications by FSIN… that they want to be part of the mineral development process in Saskatchewan, they are completely out of step with the rest of the country,” he said.
Having a fractious approach to resource development, with legal challenges and blockades instead of a collaborative approach, he added, will likely scare away any potential companies and investments.
Global News asked the provincial government for comment.
Representatives were unavailable.
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