Claim expands on 2016 Elsipogtog claim that covered a third of province
Mi’kmaw communities in New Brunswick are once again asserting Aboriginal title to land in the province — and it’s a lot more land than in the previous claim. In fact, according to a map released on Wednesday, the most recent claim covers nearly all of the province and even extends into offshore water. Together with a previously made Wolastoqey claim, the entire province now falls under title claim, according to a government spokesperson.
Eight Mi’kmaw communities in New Brunswick represented by Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. “are formally asserting title to lands and waters in New Brunswick,” according to a news release from MTI on Wednesday. The group said the move is “another step in the process to reasserting jurisdiction over lands and waters within our territory. This is a step towards self-determination and full recognition of our rights.”
The claim builds on a 2016 action by Elsipogtog First Nation, a Mi’kmaw community formerly called Big Cove. The new claim represents the other eight Mi’kmaw communities in the province, explained Dean Vicaire, executive director for MTI.
According to the news release, MTI says the Mi’kmaw never ceded the lands and waters under treaties signed by their ancestors. “The Peace and Friendship Treaties were signed by our ancestors with the intention that we would have a say and role in how our lands and waters are managed. We can no longer sit back and be spectators in our homeland. It’s now the time to govern lands for the protection and benefit of future generations,” said Chief Rebecca Knockwood of Amlamgog First Nation.
Although the Mi’kmaw are claiming title over the whole province, MTI said “we are not seeking the return of private lands to Mi’gmaq ownership, only Crown lands and industrial freehold lands.
Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg said private landowners in New Brunswick need not worry. “We are not looking at taking your homes, cottages, or properties. Our assertion of title is against the Crown and a small number of companies using industrial freehold lands in which the Crown still asserts an interest. We will be seeking compensation from the Crown for the loss of use of private lands,” said Ginnish, according to the news release.
The release also acknowledges an “overlap” in the territory claimed by the Mi’kmaw with that claimed by the Wolastoqiyik.
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“Overlap discussions with the Wolastoqiyik have already commenced,” stated the release. “We have also shared this map with Elsipogtog and the Migmawei Mawiomi Secretariat. Title belongs to the Mi’gmaq Nation and will work with other Mi’gmaq organizations to coordinate our efforts at recognition of Mi’gmaq title.”
“For thousands of years our nations and communities have worked together to identify lands that would be used and shared for hunting, fishing, and development. Any overlaps between the assertion of titles will be resolved among the Nations,” said Chief Sacha Labillois of Ugpi’ganjig, according to the news release.
Chief Bill Ward of Metepenagiag said if the government of New Brunswick is “unwilling to have meaningful discussions around our Mi’gmaq title, MTI will explore other options for recognition, which could include going to court.” Vicaire said MTI will only go to court if the province is “unwilling to sit down and engage in meaningful, good faith negotiations around the recognition and implementation of Mi’gmaq title. Canada has already indicated their willingness to negotiate recognition of our title.” He said MTI has already asked the province to negotiate.
“The Government of Canada has indicated they are willing to discuss title,” said Vicaire. “Going to court is always an option but we hope the Government of New Brunswick will be willing to negotiate in good faith and those negotiations can start soon. We’ll see how the process unfolds.”
Claims now encompass entire province
The New Brunswick Department of Aboriginal Affairs said it was just notified about the claim. “The Province will review this development in the coming days and weeks,” said department spokesperson David Kelly. “The Province will address the Mi’gmaq’s position in due course and as part of that process must consider how it implicates the current claim by the Wolastoqey to land that is in the Mi’gmaq map area.
“As a result of the Mi’gmaq’s position, there are First Nation claims against all land in New Brunswick. First Nations are claiming the entire Province of New Brunswick, including the majority of the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait.”
Previous claims in N.B.
In 2016, Elsipogtog First Nation filed for Aboriginal title over nearly one-third of New Brunswick on behalf of all Mi’kmaq in the province. With the claim expanded to nearly all of the province, if granted, it would give the Mi’kmaq more say in nearly all of the province’s natural resources.
At the time, Elsipogtog members said the action was motivated by fears of shale gas exploration clashes like the one that ensued between protesters and police in Rexton, near Elsipogtog, in October 2013. More than 40 people were arrested during the protests. In 2019, the federal government and Elsipogtog First Nation signed a memorandum of understanding that was supposed to launch discussions about the Mi’kmaw claim of Aboriginal title to a third of New Brunswick.
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The Wolastoqey nations filed a similar title claim in 2020. That claim alleges the province is not upholding the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in what is now Maine, New Hampshire, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia between 1725 and 1779. According to the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, “Aboriginal peoples did not surrender rights to land or resources” in those treaties.
The Six Chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick issued a statement in response to the newly released map. It says, “the overlap between the title asserted by MTI and the title claimed by the Wolastoqey Nation has been the topic of discussions between the respective leadership groups and we are working towards a Wampum Agreement regarding the overlap area with our neighbours.”
The statement said the discussions, “like our collaboration on many matters, have been open, friendly and productive.” It also states, “We wish to amplify today’s call from the Mi’gmaw chiefs: It’s time for the Government of New Brunswick to see the importance of negotiating recognition and implementation of Indigenous title.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Urquhart, Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at email@example.com.