I said that I wanted to write about Aboriginal issues, and it’s increasingly urgent that we bring them to the table. We’re two weeks into the election, and it is becoming apparent that Aboriginal issues are not on the radar for most of the parties. Alberta has the third largest Aboriginal population in the country, and Edmonton has the second largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada. Far from being fringe issues, the matters that affect First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in our province touch each and every Albertan. In fact, Roger Epp has argued that “we are all Treaty people” (http://msupress.msu.edu/bookTemplate.php?bookID=3530), meaning that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal citizens are part of a relationship and a series of legal promises and agreements that shaped how this province was settled at the turn of the century, and with that comes rights and responsibilities for all Albertans.
While Alberta can and must do a better job in addressing health, education, environmental and economic issues that affect Aboriginal Albertans, it does have some things to celebrate. Alberta has, in some ways, led the country in addressing Aboriginal issues: we were one of the only provinces to acknowledge Métis issues in the 1930s, which led to the creation of the Métis Settlements Act. When the Supreme Court’s Powley decision came down in 2003, Alberta was one of the first provinces to implement the Court’s ruling and acknowledge Métis hunting rights (which was subsequently reneged). Unfortunately, for every step forward we seem to take two steps back.
Part of the confusion regarding Aboriginal issues in the province lies partially in jurisdictional grey zones: while First Nations in the province have treaty relationships with the Crown, which include agreements regarding health care and education, among other things, the province is responsible for delivering these services. The tragic result of this jurisdictional bickering was laid bare in Manitoba when 5 year old Jordan Anderson died because the Federal and Provincial governments could not decide who should pay for his homecare ( http://www.fncaringsociety.com/jordans-principle). It is tempting for the province to claim that Aboriginal issues are solely a matter between the Federal government and First Nations communities to address, but the reality is that the province has duties to fulfill, and these should be reflected in the policies that each political party is advancing.
One of the most glaring issues that most parties are ignoring is the disproportionately large impact that oil and gas development in the northern part of the province has on both farmers and Aboriginal communities. These must be addressed as the province moves forward. Given that the province has a duty to consult on any resource or infrastructure activity that affects First Nations and Métis communities, one would hope the politicians vying for our votes understand how this shapes future resource extraction and infrastructure proposals in the province.
A quick glance at party platforms reveals that only the NDP have planks dedicated to Indigenous issues in the province. The Conservatives and the Wildrose Party websites mention Aboriginal issues in passing – mainly education (the PCs) and children’s services and gang activity (the Wildrose Party). The Liberals and Alberta Party have no clearly identifiable Aboriginal policy on their websites.
It is up to us, all of us, to pressure each party to clarify its stance on the significant breadth of issues that affect Aboriginal communities.