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WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada, in Delgamuukw et al vs. the Queen in Right of British Columbia, has ruled that aboriginal title may extend to traditional lands; AND WHEREAS First Nation bands covering a vast portion of northern Alberta are demanding that the oil and gas industry pay fees for activities carried out on traditional lands encompassing crown land administered by the Province of Alberta; AND WHEREAS Alberta oilfield contractor companies have had their operations limited by the demands by northern Alberta aboriginal groups for access fees from major industry; AND WHEREAS Treaty No. 8 ceded all lands within the given area, except for the right to vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing upon traditional lands, in exchange for Indian Reserves under the administration of the Federal Indian Affairs Department on or after June 21, 1899; AND WHEREAS subsequent to the creation of the Province of Alberta the Government of Canada ceded authority over crown lands to the Province of Alberta, which has since that time exercised control over those crown lands on behalf of all the people of Alberta; AND WHEREAS the exercise of demand payment practices by the First Nation bands is limiting and eliminating the equitable opportunity for all to contract for work on activities on non-reserve Crown lands; AND WHEREAS the provincial government has not enforced its jurisdiction over its Crown lands on behalf of all Albertans;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Province of Alberta to: 1. Exert its authority over all Crown lands under the authority of the Crown as represented by the Province of Alberta; and 2. Serve and protect all lease holders and other disposition holders or holders of Crown lands under other arrangements made by the Crown as represented by the Province of Alberta; and 3. Exercise their authority as stewards of the Crown lands under their jurisdiction on behalf of all Albertans, without discrimination, to ensure a level playing field for all who wish to participate in activities or opportunities relating to those lands. 4. Initiate a legal challenge against First Nation groups to determine a legal interpretation of the meaning, spirit and intent of traditional lands as they pertain to Crown land.
A similar resolution was submitted by the Municipal District of Big Lakes in 1999 over this very issue, however the provincial government is reluctant to get involved. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River has learned that local contractors are no longer being considered for work on crown lands adjacent to Indian Reserves (referred to as traditional lands), and existing contracts are being terminated by the oil industry. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River has also learned that First Nation Groups are demanding access fees from oilfield contractors for 10% of the value of their respective contracts, in return for an unfettered right to access traditional lands as claimed/defined by these First Nation groups. Contractors that have refused to pay this illegal fee are allegedly being threatened by the First Nation groups with potential physical violence, as well as with other actions such as road blocks, etc. Many oil companies are paying these access fees and/or are turning the work over to First Nation groups to manage without any form of a fair and competitive process. For years now, the provincial government has stated that First Nations have no legal authority to charge access or disturbance fees on Crown land, and that companies have no legal obligation to pay such fees. The problem is that this very practice is occurring, and the province has declined to get involved in the issue. This aggressive approach on the part of First Nations bands apparently stems from a Supreme Court of Canada decision rendered on December 11, 1997 regarding an appeal of a British Columbia case (Delgamuukw et al vs. the Queen in right of British Columbia). In that case, rights to traditional lands (i.e. lands that were utilized by Indians for hunting, fishing and trapping over the centuries) were formally recognized by the Court. It is our view that in Alberta, First Nations surrendered those rights in exchange for Indian Reservations under Treaties 6, 7 and 8. What we seek is a level playing field where all contractors may be allowed to contract with companies such as oil and gas companies, on all lands under the jurisdiction of the Crown in right of Alberta, without discrimination. In addition, we want the Government of the Province of Alberta to exercise its jurisdiction over its Crown lands. Furthermore, we feel it is time for the provincial government to take legal action to definitively bring to a resolution the true and legal interpretation of traditional lands as it pertains to Crown lands, which belong to all Albertans. Delegates may very well be familiar with media reports on this issue, such as the January 6, 2003 issue of Alberta Report and other media such as the CBC documentary relative to this issue. It is time for the Crown in Right of Alberta to exercise its jurisdiction over its Crown lands on behalf of all Albertans.
Delegates to the Spring 1999 Convention endorsed Resolution 13-99S, which called for similar action from the Government of Alberta to address this same issue. The Government of Alberta’s response at the time was as follows: The Province has sole jurisdiction for all resource exploration and development activity on Crown land. First Nations have no legal authority to charge access or disturbance fees on Crown land, and companies have no legal obligation to pay such fees. If individual companies have chosen to sign agreements or make payments, this is their choice. Arrangements between developers and contractors are a private matter that do not involve the Province. The department supports and has promoted mutually agreeable initiatives between industry and Aboriginal groups that encourage economic and employment opportunities. The department does not support unilateral actions by First Nations to levy fees on industry. The Province is currently involved in several internal initiatives which should help to address the concerns of all stakeholders, and avoid future situations similar to those that have occurred in northern Alberta over the past several months. The provincial government subsequently adopted a new Aboriginal Policy Framework in 2000, which the AAMD&C endorsed on the basis that the Framework clearly stated that aboriginal title to Crown lands had been extinguished with the signing of Treaties 6, 7 and 8, and that the Framework also contained a commitment to “manage natural resources and revenues for the benefit of all Albertans.”