New trespassing legislation violates the spirit of treaties

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This land is treaty land. Carina Parasca via Unsplash

Colonization still ongoing

As of January 1, 2022, new Saskatchewan legislation titled The Trespass to Property Amendment Act came into effect. The law states that anyone who wants to access rural lands needs to gain permission from the landowners to access the land or potentially face criminal charges, jail time, and heavy fines. The Treaty Land Sharing Network, an organization of landholders and First Nations people that work together to promote Indigenous rights to land use, came out in opposition to the law, stating that it goes against Indigenous peoples’ treaty rights to move freely about their territories.

Indigenous people in what is currently called Canada hold inherent and treaty rights to move freely about the territories. Making safe access more difficult does many damaging things. It affects other treaty rights, such as the ability to hunt, farm, trap, and use the land for traditional cultural practices.  It also affects the notions and principles of reconciliation and the idea of moving away from the damaging relationships of the past; it harms the efforts of Indigenous people trying to reclaim parts of their culture lost through colonialism and forced assimilation – and frankly, goes against the true spirit of the treaties. Land use has been an issue within Saskatchewan before, and this legislation only further compounds the difficulties caused by a large portion of crown lands being liquidated to private companies. So much land has been sold that now 85 per cent of all farmland in Saskatchewan south of the forest line is owned by private organizations.

Joel Mowchenko, a settler who farms south of Moose Jaw, has been a part of the Treaty Land Sharing Network from its early days. Mowchenko said the legislation impedes the important work that the network is doing to restore good relations. “It was necessary to voice a response to the legislation. The legislation doesn’t stop us from doing what we’re doing. It doesn’t stop us from learning. It doesn’t stop us from building relationships. It doesn’t stop us from envisioning a way that we can work together to share the land the way the treaties envisioned. It just makes it a lot harder. It makes it a lot harder to build relationships. It sends the wrong message. It is a definitive step in the wrong direction. It does work against the vision of sharing the land and it does work against promoting the treaties, and the inherent treaty rights of Indigenous people to use the land.”

Treaties are an agreement between the Canadian government and the Indigenous peoples who occupy the land. There are 11 numbered treaties within the country, with the first being signed in 1871 and the last in 1921. The southern part of Saskatchewan, which includes the University of Regina, is on Treaty 4 territory, extending into Alberta. The northern part of Saskatchewan is on Treaty 6 land. The purpose of the treaties was to create an agreement for how Indigenous people and the settlers could live together. In this relationship, they could coexist together without one controlling the other. However, the Canadian government has never – and never intended to – execute the treaties in good faith.

Mowchenko said that while many of the concerns rural settlers have about crime are legitimate, there is already existing legislation that addresses those concerns. “I do understand that people in rural areas have valid concerns about crime, the safety of their livestock and their property. I understand that, and I think that was what this legislation was attempting to address, but we already have laws against those things. We have laws against property damage and personal safety legislation and this law really doesn’t add anything to that. I am one of many people in the province [and] in the country who have concerns about reconciliation and that we are not doing enough to move in that direction. I feel that this legislation does very little, if anything, to address the concern of rural people, all it’s done is act as another barrier to reconciliation and Indigenous land use”.

Even though the legislation is a step in the wrong direction, the Treaty Land Sharing Network will continue its work uniting landowners with Indigenous land users.

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