Acknowledgement of treaty land won't be routine under UCP government

The provincial government appears to have discontinued what had become a routine practice in Alberta, that of acknowledging meetings and public events are held on treaty land.

In 2015, the NDP government adopted the practice of opening all public gatherings, including caucus meetings, with a recognition that the events were being held on treaty land, said NDP spokesperson Matt Dykstra.

The NDP government later added recognition of the special connection that Métis people have to Alberta. It’s a practice the NDP caucus continues today in its role as the Official Opposition.  

The now-familiar acknowledgement, also used by the City of Edmonton, has been largely absent from UCP news conferences and announcements since the new government was sworn in last month.

Ted Bauer, press secretary to Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson, said foregoing such acknowledgement is “not official policy” of the government.

Rick Wilson, minister of indigenous relations, says he routinely starts meetings by acknowledging they are held on treaty. (Government of Alberta)

Asked about the issue last week during question period, Wilson said a key part of reconciliation for the UCP government will be “ensuring that the barriers to ownership of resource projects by Indigenous Albertans are removed.”

Asked a follow-up question by NDP MLA Richard Feehan, about whether the government acknowledges the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Wilson appeared to struggle to find his briefing notes.

“I’ll get back to you,” he responded.

Wilson, the MLA for Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, said Tuesday he routinely opens his public events with a treaty land acknowledgement. But he said there are other, more pressing issues in Indigenous communities.

Concerned about the economy

“In my area, what they’re really concerned about is the economy,” Wilson said when asked about the issue by CBC News.

“I’m hearing that strong from all the chiefs. They want to be involved with us, they want to partner with us on the economy and help our communities grow strong.”

Métis Nation of Alberta Presient Audrey Poitras speaking at the legislature at an event honouring Louis Riel in 2017. (CBC News)

Wilson said the government is proposing to create an Indigenous Opportunity Corporation to provide communities with access to capital, and eliminate barriers to economic opportunities.

During the election campaign, UCP Leader Jason Kenney mentioned treaty rights before starting a news conference at the River Cree Resort on the Enoch Cree Nation west of Edmonton.

At the news conference last month, Kenney said the new Crown corporation would provide technical and advisory support to Indigenous communities and offer a range of financial tools.

After listening to the throne speech May 22, Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, said different leaders approach reconciliation and express recognition in their own ways.

‘We like to hear that’

Asked about the absence of verbal recognition from the Kenney government, Poitras said it does mean something to hear the words.

“I’m hoping that you know we always like to hear that,” said Poitras.

“So we do have a commitment from the (Indigenous relations) minister to get to a meeting, and I’m hoping that we can talk about some of the culture, the traditions and the values that we have.”

Feehan, the former indigenous relations minister, said acknowledging treaty land is an important way to demonstrate support and understanding.

“To declare that you absolutely, fundamentally believe in the rights of Indigenous people, based on their historical presence on this land,” said Feehan.

Feehan suggested Wilson needs to demonstrate a better understanding of Indigenous issues.

“It’s a very different ministry than most of the others,” he said. “You don’t run programs. You certainly should understand rights and recognition.”

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