In 2004, Aseniwuche Winewak Nation filed its first Statement of Claim against Canada and Alberta. This claim was an assertion of AWN’s Indigenous rights and claimed land and compensation owed. A second claim was filed in 2017 based on Section 35 of the Constitution, Honour of the Crown: The government must treat Indigenous people fairly. In response, Canada and Alberta signed abeyance agreements to ‘pause’ the case to allow for negotiations.
A meeting between AWN and Indigenous Northern Affairs Canada was held in Gatineau, Quebec in January 2018. This was a momentous occasion marking the first-ever time Canada agreed to speak with AWN about rights, recognition, programs and services. This was followed by an equally historic milestone in Edmonton in February 2018 with the first negotiation meeting. After only two meetings through the Self-Determination (RIRSD) tables, Canada ended the meetings with little explanation.
Since then, AWN’s legal counsel has been writing letters to the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, asking for clarification and a path forward. They’ve also been pushing Canada’s legal counsel in the Québec Court of Appeal Reference case on An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children youth and families (Bill C-92) to elevate AWN’s profile (like in the Daniels case) and apply pressure internally to get the Minister to restart negotiations of AWN’s claim. This pushing worked, and in November 2020, AWN received a response from Canada directing us to a contact working in Canada’s claims assessment process. While it is frustrating it took so long to receive such a brief response, this now provides a way forward for advancing AWN’s claim.
In January 2021, AWN’s legal counsel, President and Executive Director had an initial phone call with representatives of Canada to learn more about this process. It was explained that Canada wants AWN to go through a “Special Claims” assessment process because of AWN’s unique circumstances. He said Canada should not have invited AWN to the RIRSD Table in the first place, as it was not the appropriate process for AWN’s Claim. Canada has finally determined that the appropriate first step is the Special Claims Assessment Process.
In the Special Claims Assessment Process, AWN will have to submit its claim to Canada, along with supporting documents and legal argument. Canada then does its own assessment of the claim, and either accepts the claim for negotiation, or refuses and provides an explanation why the claim was refused. If accepted, a negotiation table would then be started with AWN. If refused, AWN could return to advancing its claim in court. This process may take several years, but it provides AWN with a path forward to negotiate our claim. AWN has received legal advice that proceeding through this Special Claim Assessment Process is advisable. AWN’s legal counsel has been authorized to start work on the claim submission to Canada. We will update the community as this submission is developed.