Roads have been blocked to protest omnibus bills passed by the Canadian Government and Alberta First Nation chiefs recently travelled to Ottawa, Ont. to speak on these changes.
In an effort to educate its members, the Samson Cree Nation hosted a Teach-In Jan. 17 at the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre.
Chief Marvin Yellowbird welcomed attendees and updated them on meetings that have taken place with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other chiefs from across the nation.
Yellowbird travelled with chiefs from Alberta to meet with Harper and Governor General David Johnston. “It was quite a journey and experience for me.”
There were certain restrictions placed on Yellowbird and how many chiefs would be able to speak and some decided to boycott the meeting with Harper. “I could feel the tension amongst the chiefs.”
The Samson band and two other Alberta bands did not participate in the Jan. 11 meeting and the decision came from discussions with their councils and elders.
Eileen Sasakamoose is a lawyer from Enoch and she explained some of the recent changes in bills C-38 and C-45 and how First Nations have been affected. The Treaties were designed as a nation-to-nation relationship but First Nations people are asking if that is the case, explained Sasakamoose.
Changes to these bills also affect some of the treaties with First Nations and she believes they have not been consulted despite implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration says states must consult with the indigenous peoples before making any changes that might affect them.
One of the changes to the Indian Act was contained in the Bill C-45; provisions in the act requires First Nation members to approve setting aside reserve land for commercial or industrial use. It has to be approved by a majority vote of eligible voters.
Changes to the act now require only a majority of members who attend to change the designation. Her objection to this change is on the ease of changing the designation with one meeting.
Flora Northwest is upset how quickly the bill passed. “Were we prepared for this? No we were not.”
She feels the community must discuss issues and changes immediately and the younger generation must be included.
“We always talk about the future generation. Where are they going to go?” asked Northwest.
She advised parents to keep their children in schools; this will help them in their dealings with the government.
Austin Ermineskin wants more involvement from Prime Minister Harper with First Nations by attending a powwow.
Bill C-45 also reduces the number of protected rivers from 2.25 million to 62, and protected lakes from 32,000 to 97. “These waters are no longer protected by this legislation.”
Marvin Yellowbird said this is the first of more education forums to come and his intention is to educate Maskwacis on Indian Treaties with the Canadian Government. His hope is to include high school students as well.