Treaty 6 creating a revenue sharing model for Alberta’s consideration

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024 3:11pm


Image Caption

Premier Danielle Smith and Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations Grand Chief Cody Thomas speak after a meeting between the Alberta Cabinet and Treaty 6 chiefs.
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In July, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations will begin creating a model for discussion with the province to share revenue from natural resource development.

It’s a discussion that Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her Cabinet ministers had with Treaty 6 chiefs last week just prior to the 2024-25 budget coming down, said Confederacy Grand Chief Cody Thomas.

“At the end of the day, (it’s) being at the table and coming up with solutions or creating the framework on how that revenue sharing can contribute to Indigenous and creating that model. The difference is we have a government willing to come to the table in a way we haven't seen before,” Thomas said.

That’s a sharp contrast from what the Confederacy was saying just over a year ago when Smith’s first piece of legislation as new premier was the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act. The bill went through the legislature in December 2022 after government limited debate. Alberta chiefs viewed the act as a disregard of treaty and as a way for the province to gain access to lands without restrictions.

At the time, Treaty 6 spokesperson Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis called the bill “unconstitutional and illegal…The fight for our rights to land and resources seems to never end.”

However, Thomas is now confident that Smith and her government “will help in that collaboration of walking the walk and talking the talk.”

He believes the meeting on Feb. 27 has set that expectation.

“I think the action that needs to be taken out of the meeting is that we need to create the framework for the understanding of the Indigenous perspective and how that's going to work and play a factor into the future for our next generations to come,” said Thomas.

Treaty 6 is presently holding meetings with economists to examine possible revenue sharing designs from an Indigenous perspective.

The plan involves only Treaty 6 Nations at this point, Thomas said.

Revenue sharing with First Nations was not mentioned in the budget that was delivered last Thursday. The budget sees the province projecting a slim $367 million surplus as revenues decline. Revenue is estimated to be $73.5 billion in 2024-25, a decline of $2.1 billion from last year’s third-quarter forecast. That decline is mainly due to oil prices being US$5 less than the projection of US$79 per barrel.

Thomas said discussions for revenue sharing with the province are at the “infancy stage” even though it has been a long-term concern.

“I think historically yes, it's been frustrating when it comes to the Natural Resources Transfer Act,” said Thomas.

In the 1930s, Canada entered into a series of agreements that transferred federal administration and control over land and natural resources to the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

However, said Thomas, for elected provincial officials “to hear it from our perspective when it comes to treaty, when it comes to the fiduciary responsibility of the Crown and the feds and how we can collaborate together” is something new.

Thomas said chiefs also raised the issues of “more collaboration” when it comes to procurement, housing initiatives, access to more funding for water, and having an Indigenous seat at the table with the Alberta Energy Regulator. The AER, established by the Alberta government, regulates the development of energy projects in the province.

The meeting between Smith and her Cabinet ministers was quickly followed with the introduction of the 2024-25 provincial budget on Feb. 29.

“Historically, we've been left out of a lot of the conversation, our opportunity to open the doors for our next generations to come. I think it's a start with the budget. Is it perfect? No. But there's definitely ample opportunity to grow and carry on the conversations to meet the needs of First Nations and Albertans,” said Thomas.

The budget did not include a commitment by the province to procure goods and services from Indigenous businesses in Alberta. Thomas says he would like to see the province give a minimum five per cent commitment like the federal government has.

“Seeing that there's going to be a shortage of labour force, we, as Indigenous, want to be able to be at that table and contribute and invest in our people (resulting in an) increased standard of living,” he said.

Thomas said he would like to see all treaty areas have representatives at the table to offer their “perspectives and contributions” when it comes to water discussions, especially with drought being anticipated this year.

On Monday March 4, the province announced that First Nations and Métis settlements, along with municipalities, improvement districts and special areas, could apply for a slice of $125 million over five years budgeted for the new Drought and Flood Protection Program to develop the long-term infrastructure needed to improve their drought and flood resilience and adapt to severe weather.

Thomas said he doesn’t know the details of the program, but that it appears that Alberta is committing to spending provincial dollars on reserves, which fall under federal jurisdiction.

“There needs to be a little bit more consultation around… the water shortage or our funding sources or funding models that are going to be rolled out and how we can contribute and be a part of those conversations,” he said.

The budget also included the commitment from the Child and Family Services ministry to work with First Nations and Canada to implement the transfer of authority over child and family services established through federal legislation. However, the province has not budgeted any dollars to go along with this work.

“We'll have more discussion around the framework and how it affects all of us as Indigenous. That is a conversation that we all need to be educated on because that was a (federal) announcement that we're proud of, but at the end of the day, what does the budget look like and what does the framework and the responsibilities (look like),” said Thomas.

Another issue Treaty 6 chiefs raised with Smith during the meeting was the need to address systemic racism in health care, improving primary care delivery on reserves and addressing mental health and addiction.

Thomas says the recovery centres the province has committed to “are huge.”

Previous to this latest budget, the province committed to building nine recovery centres and provide 900 beds, free of charge, to people to help them with their recovery. One-hundred and fifty of those beds are to be located on First Nations. A recovery centre on the Blood Reserve is to open this year, while Enoch Cree Nation started building a recovery centre last year.

Thomas says he would like to see a mental health care model that also monetarily values Elders at the “same rates as the psychologists.”

“Historically (Elders are) healing our people in a way (with) the mental health and addictions aspect of things. They're able to contribute from an Indigenous lens. It's not just the one-size fits all. And actually getting that opportunity as Indigenous to have that same even playing field compensated as well. Nobody has a degree in culture…(or) in our traditions,” said Thomas.

On March 1, Alberta announced it would be introducing legislation in the spring session that would see the College of Alberta Psychologists regulate and license counsellors. It’s a move that could close an ever-growing gap for Indigenous people who can access funding through the federal government’s Non-Insured Health Benefit program in order to get counselling.

The ask (at the meeting) was ‘Let's be consulted when it comes to the regulation’. (In) some form we want to be a part of the conversation,” said Thomas.

Regulations are to follow in 2025.

Speaking after the Feb. 27 meeting with the Treaty 6 chiefs, Smith said she and her government “are 100 per cent committed to working towards equity and prosperity for all.”

She said while the dialogue was not always easy, it was “enlightening.” She also committed to holding such meetings more than once a year.