Indigenous leaders across Saskatchewan are calling on the provincial government to halt an upcoming Crown land auction and to improve the consultation process moving forward.
On Jan. 31, the Ministry of Agriculture is scheduled to host an online auction for the lease of Crown land for agriculture purposes. The highest bidders in the auction will receive parcels of land for up to 33 years.
Indigenous leaders and their community members say this goes against their Treaty rights.
“Crown land sale leases that are up to 33 years result in unjustifiable infringement of our Treaty rights to meaningfully hunt, trap, fish, harvest and gather within our traditional territories,” Chief Henry Lewis of Onion Lake Cree Nation said on Monday.
Members of his community use the land surrounding their reserve for those practices, but won’t be able to continue doing so if the land is auctioned off.
Terri Quinney, the duty to consult coordinator for Onion Lake Cree Nation, said she found out about the upcoming auction two weeks ago when browsing online.
“We didn’t receive no notices, no nothing.” Quinney said.
“The only reason why follow up is occurring is because we initiated it. How many other nations have been missed?” Quinney said.
She said it’s premature for the province to put the auction on its website without thoroughly consulting Indigenous communities first.
We’re not backing down on this. It’s good to see other nations here but we need more nations to come forward and say what the problems are that they’re having too.”
Saskatchewan’s NDP is joining in on the call to halt the upcoming land auction and is asking for improved consultation going forward.
“When the government intentionally restricts the consultation process, it’s no wonder Indigenous communities feel ignored and disrespected,” NDP MLA Betty Nippi-Albright said, adding that any consultation that may be taking place is currently minimal at best.
In a statement, the Government of Saskatchewan said it reviewed its First Nation and Metis Consultation Policy Framework in the summer and fall of 2022. It said that has included conversations with First Nation and Metis communities about the successes, strengths and opportunities to improve the current framework and said that continues to be ongoing.
Before leasing or selling Crown land, the government said the ministry reviews each parcel consistent with that framework to determine if the duty to consult is triggered.
“The Ministry of Agriculture consults with potentially affected First Nation and Metis communities in advance of auctions,” the statement said.
Members from Ochapowace First Nation, Yellow Quill First Nation, Peepeekisis Cree Nation and more were present at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Monday.
Some leaders say if the land auction on Jan. 31 goes ahead, they will pursue legal action.