First Nations assert that the protection and conservation of the natural resources for the use of First Nations is a specific Treaty obligation made by the Crown. First Nations believe that the Crown agreed to provide protection and means to conserve the game, fish and other natural resources for the future generations of First Nations people. Because of the depletion of the buffalo and other game, First Nations wanted the Crown to be actively engaged in protecting the natural resources so that First Nations could continue a priority right to the natural resources required for their survival.
First Nations have responsibilities regarding lands and waters, given by the Creator, and they must exercise their duties throughout their territories to uphold their responsibilities. Given the current situation and with changes throughout the land, Saskatchewan has reached a critical point in regards to water. There are threats to sustainability, health and quality of life. The province is anticipating growth and it will bring with it an obvious increase in the demand for water and water services to satisfy its domestic, agriculture, business, industry, environmental, recreation, and power generation needs.
Saskatchewan “Environment Code”
On November 3, 2104, the Ministry of Environment officially announced the Code that contains 16 chapters that address such areas as air quality, impacted sites, water and natural resources protection. The Code will come into force in stages in 2015 to allow for “affected industries to prepare for the change.”
The major change in policy of the Environment Code’s is that the provincial government will NOT monitor resource development. The Code prescribes how the province has removed itself from the function that it served before, which was to monitor the “on-the-ground” environmental protection activities of the natural resource developer proponents. The Code now states that the natural resource development proponent must do its own “on-the-ground” monitoring and report its environmental protection findings and “stakeholder” consultation and accommodation activities to the province. The Code defines “what” the required environmental outcomes are and leaves the “how” to achieve compliance up to the regulated community.
The province will now merely audit the compliance reports submitted by natural resource development proponents. The Lands and Resources Secretariat viewed this aspect of the Code as its greatest weakness on protecting the environment and a delegation of the consultation and accommodation of Treaty rights to the natural resource developer proponent.
On February 16, 2012, the FSIN Chiefs-in-Assembly passed Resolution #1806 opposing the Saskatchewan Environmental Code and calling on Ministry of Environment (MoE) to implement its legal and constitutional obligations to consult and accommodate First Nations in Saskatchewan. Based on Resolution #1806, the FSIN was never involved in the RBR Framework process or the development of the Code. The FSIN maintains the position that government has a duty to consult and accommodate in relation to changes to legislation, policy or regulations that could impact First Nations.
Federal Government Policy
Liberal Party of Canada Election Platform: The Liberal’s election platform states: “Canadians must be able to trust that government will engage in appropriate regulatory oversight, including credible environmental assessments, and that it will respect the rights of those most affected, such as Indigenous communities. While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.
“We will undertake, in full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation, a full review of laws, policies, and operational practices. This will ensure that on project reviews and assessments, the Crown is fully executing its consultation, accommodation, and consent obligations, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations, including Aboriginal and Treaty rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We recognize the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the land, and will respect legal traditions and perspectives on environmental stewardship.”
The Lands and Resources Secretariat will ensure the Saskatchewan First Nations participate in the promised “review of laws, policies, and operational practices” of the federal Liberal government. This review will also include the provincial government’s Environment Code and legislation.