Alberta premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations after being sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019.
JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Indigenous land acknowledgements — once symbolic openings of most government events under the NDP — are now a matter of “personal preference” at UCP official events according to Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson.Land acknowledgments are statements recognizing the historic and ongoing presence and connection of different First Nations and Métis to the land. The statements also acknowledge treaties between First Nations and the Crown. Alberta is located on Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 territory.Wilson, who represents Maskwacîs-Wetaskiwin, says that he still does land acknowledgements at his events but has not heard personally any issues with other UCP officials not doing them.“We’re kind of leaving it up to everybody on their own accord, it depends on the situation,” said Wilson from the legislature on Monday.Former NDP Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Feehan, who continues to represent Edmonton-Rutherford, has heard concerns from Indigenous peoples that this change in practice signals a lack of understanding of the important relationship between Indigenous peoples and their homelands among UCP MLAs.“The whole point of the land recognition before you begin a speech is to acknowledge the very basis of how Canada was formed,” said Feehan from the legislature Monday. ”If you deny the importance of the historical treaties in this province, then how much are you denying about what happened to Indigenous peoples subsequently? Are you denying the oppression (and) are you denying residential schools?”Feehan also worries this move demonstrates that Wilson and his UCP colleagues do not have enough knowledge of “basic concepts” regarding Indigenous peoples in Alberta.During question period in the legislature on Thursday, Wilson struggled to answer a question from Feehan about whether he would support provisions in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous peoples on natural resource projects. Wilson, whose constituency is near where the declaration was written, said he was “looking into it.”The UCP campaigned on a platform to make First Nations in Alberta “partners in the prosperity of the province,” and Wilson said he will “continue to honour the First People” through his tenure as minister.Feehan believes that land acknowledgements are a bare minimum act of respect as the UCP begins to engage in these discussions with Indigenous peoples.“If you’re starting a relationship with people by being disrespectful to them, I think it’s very problematic,” he said Thursday.— With files from Emma Graney